A Fairfax man with Down Syndrome has triumphed over some of his physical limitations by taking home six medals at this year’s Special Olympics USA National Games.
Michael Abraham, 21, is a gymnast. He has been practicing the sport at the Capital Gymnasium in Burke since he was 5-years old, and this year was his first Special Olympics national competition. His coach of nearly seven years, Jay Hoffmeier, said Abraham’s strength is amazing, especially considering the typical muscle limitations traditionally associated with Down Syndrome. His ability to hold steady on the rings was especially remarkable, said Hoffmeier, because of the mental and physical demands put on athletes competing in that particular competition.
“Most Down’s kids have weak muscle control,” said Hoffmeier. “For him to be able to hold that, it takes a tremendous amount of strength.”
Michael Abraham placed in six gymnastics events at this year’s National Special Olympics games in Aimes, Iowa, July 2-7. He took home gold medals in the floor and rings competitions, silver medals for both the parallel and horizontal bars competitions, a bronze medal for the vault and an all-around silver medal. Abraham also placed sixth on the pommel horse. It wasn’t necessarily easy though, said Abraham, since he isn’t as comfortable with the pommel horse and the high bar routines. He said he has a fear of falling from the high bars, so completing that part of the competition was more important to him than placing or receiving a medal.
It’s the floor, vault and parallel bars that Abraham said he really enjoys. He especially likes the vault because the running and the jumping reminds him of track and field, another sport with which he has competitive experience. The win in Iowa though has put him up on a cloud.
“It feels like I am being honored,” said Abraham. “I took second place all-around.”
GYMNASTICS HAS provided Abraham with a wealth of social, physical and mental experiences, said his mother, Karen Abraham. It serves as a form of physical therapy and has done wonders for him personally.
“It’s given him a lot of self esteem and confidence,” said Karen Abraham. “I think he’s more outgoing because of it.”
Sometimes he’s so outgoing that he’ll even brag about himself, said Hoffmeier. It’s endearing though, and it always provokes a smile from others. Michael Abraham has a bubbly personality, another characteristic Hoffmeier said is common in people with Down Syndrome. Hoffmeier said it’s enhanced even more by his athletic ability and the confidence he’s built as a result.
“He’s just a great, all-around kid,” said Hoffmeier. “He just happens to have a disability that he’s overcome.”
Michael Abraham likes overcoming anything in his way, especially in competition. He loves to win, and he works hard to make sure he does. Hoffmeier said his competitive edge has motivated him to work harder and really shine in the world of gymnastics.
“When he sees someone do something, he strives to do it better,” said Hoffmeier.
Karen Abraham attributes a lot of his accomplishments to living in a metropolitan area. So many resources and programs for people with developmental disabilities in Fairfax County that have given Michael the opportunities to learn and grow, said Karen Abraham. Between the county, its school system and the amount of volunteers in the area, endless amounts of activities and programs have been available for Michael to participate in, she said.
Even the gym Michael Abraham practices at allows him to use their facility free of charge, and Special Olympics coaches are made up entirely of volunteers as well.
“Other than the satisfaction of helping somebody, they don’t get anything else for it,” said Karen Abraham.
As for his gymnastics career, Michael Abraham said he does not intend to stop now. He will continue to practice at the Capital Gymnasium, under the direction of Coach Hoffmeier, and said he hopes to make it into an even higher level of competition someday.
“He’s a great athlete … very strong and very dedicated,” said Hoffmeier.