Staying Fit Through Gymnastics

Two years ago, Nadia Ulanowska wasn’t able to walk without a walker. Now, the 10-year-old Burnaby resident has perfected a seat drop on the trampoline. Nadia’s cerebral palsy, which is known as spastic diplegia, affects both of her legs. Thanks to the Cerebral Palsy Association of British Columbia’s (CPABC) Campership program, Nadia has had the opportunity to participate in Club Aviva Empowering Steps Movement Therapy summer camp in Coquitlam since 2011. She attended Club Aviva through a subsidy provided by CPABC which alleviated costs associated with the adapted gymnastics program.

Breaking Through Challenges

Empowering Steps Movement Therapy (ESMT) is a motor intervention program that focuses on function rather than diagnosis, treating all children with neurodevelopmental disabilities including cerebral palsy. Many children and youth living with cerebral palsy don’t get enough physical activity because they face physical, cognitive and behavioral challenges which make it difficult to attend other programs. Special recreation programs such as adapted gymnastics offer physical benefits – improvements to muscle strength, stamina, breathing and flexibility – and they also offer social and personal development benefits, through self-confidence, social inclusion, relationship building and overall wellness.

Seeing is believing, and this is the case with Nadia. Because of her hard work and dedication at the camp, she now enjoys increased mobility, flexibility and coordination along with a healthy mindset that supports her physical activity. Determined to finish the summer program last year, she says, “it took a long time, but [I] finished it in two months before I got back to school.” Nadia’s determination is echoed by Natalie Riley, a movement therapist at Club Aviva, who says Nadia demonstrated perseverance and initiative, achieving her personal goals and dispelling preconceived ideas about her disability.

Work Hard, Play Hard

Natalie and Nadia worked together on Nadia’s upper body strength and core strength, through assisted chin ups and planks. The pair also focused heavily on balance and coordination, which are often compromised by cerebral palsy. Nadia’s skills-building activities also included climbing a ladder, rope-climbing, trampoline exercises, jumping, plies for hip flexibility, walking backwards to improve balance and stability, and walking a six-inch wide balance beam to improve her gait mechanics. Nadia’s drive and dedication are evident in her eyes as she explains, “when we move on the beam on the floor we try to isolate one leg at a time so I can build up my strength”.

Along with balance and coordination, Nadia has also been concentrating on strengthening her lower body and her control of it. The balance beam is a great apparatus to focus on balance and coordination, as well as perfecting gait patterns and mechanics. There are multiple options for the beam, skinny (4 inch) or fat pad beams (6 inch), as well as raised or lowered beams. This allows for scaffolding skills and building confidence. The practicality of the gymnastic exercises at Club Aviva have helped Nadia to have fun and progress to her best functional capacity.

Traditional gymnastics might prove challenging for Nadia, but the moves she practices at Club Aviva are adapted for her motilities and offer benefits for her core strength, balance, and coordination.  “The environment is really good in terms of focusing on her as a person through getting to interact with her and connect emotionally and physically and not look at her disability,” says Natalie.

There’s a Camp Out There for Everyone

CPABC executive director Feri Dehdar emphasizes the positive power of adapted recreation. “Children appreciate being in an accepting environment, where they can be free to do what works for them. Add to that the physical fitness aspect and it truly is an amazing opportunity. Participants build movement skills, express themselves and have fun. Our unique ways of moving and interacting can be sources of creativity, beauty and well-being. Confidence is a super power.”

CPABC has not only supported Nadia to enjoy summer camp every year since 2011, it has also helped countless other children, youth and adults to have fun at camp and summertime activities. CPABC has subsidized 16 kids with CP to attend Club Aviva since 2011, so they can enjoy camp just like any other child.


Learn more about the Campership program.

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