If there is anyone who knows what it’s like to dream big and achieve, it’s the amazing Chelsea Werner. She’s a four-time U.S. Special Olympics Gymnastics National Champion, a two-time defending World Champion, a fashion model and an advocate for inclusion. We’ve been following Chelsea’s journey since we spotted her on the TODAY show a few years ago, and we’re thrilled to share her story of overcoming obstacles and thriving with Down Syndrome. Read on below and prepare to be inspired!
When Chelsea was young, her parents gave her the gift of a well-rounded concept of sports, introducing her to many different types of activities. Gymnastics had more of a social aspect to it, which she loved. Once she began competing and experienced the positive reinforcement of a cheering audience, Chelsea was hooked. From that point on, she knew that she was a gymnast.
While she always loved gymnastics, it wasn’t until finding her coach, Dawn Pombo, that she reached an exciting milestone. Dawn coached Chelsea just like all her other (non-disabled) gymnasts; she was tough, had high expectations, and constantly challenged Chelsea to meet those expectations.
All her coaches have helped her develop a great work ethic, and Chelsea is unstoppable! When she was 14, the gymnastics program was dropped for Special Olympics in her region, she went on to compete in regular U.S.A. gymnastics. In order to grow as an athlete and continue to sharpen her prowess, Chelsea had to work much harder to master each new skill than her fellow teammates. Gymnastics is a sport that rewards perfection. It would have been easy for Chelsea to get discouraged with scores that were not perfect; instead this instilled in her tenacity, and taught her not to give up when things get tough. Her mom, Lisa Werner, said that “Sports have given Chelsea incredible self esteem and work ethic that carries over to all aspects of her life.”
Two of her favorite songs, “This is Me” (from The Greatest Showman) and “Friends like Me” have been used in her floor routines during competition. “I get excited whenever I hear them!” she said. She added, “I love dancing, especially to hip-hop.”
When you ask Chelsea who her sports heroes are, she’ll excitedly reply, “My heroes are Aly Raisman, Simone Biles, Laurie Hernandez and Nadia Comaneci!” It’s important to note that Chelsea has had the opportunity to work with or meet each one of her heroes! Chelsea has a movie coming out in a few weeks called “Full Out 2” where she got to film with Nadia. She’s also been a part of several campaigns with Aly Raisman. Simone Biles invited Chelsea to watch her on Dancing With the Stars. Chelsea also had a workout with Laurie Hernandez several months ago.
Chelsea’s success in gymnastics brought her even more exciting adventures when H&M spotted her interview on the TODAY show. “My first modeling job was for H&M. I went to Havana, Cuba to shoot it,” Chelsea recalls. She absolutely loved the experience! Since Chelsea had been performing in front of cameras for years (prompting her dad to give her the nickname “Showtime” years ago!) modeling was very natural for her, and she really enjoys every aspect of her modeling career. The biggest challenge in the modeling industry is the lack of diversity, Chelsea is paving the way for change with the same tenacious spirit she had when taking on gymnastics. While it’s still extremely rare to see a model with a disability, diversity is happening and Chelsea is in the forefront of this movement. Besides H&M, a few of her other notable modeling campaigns include Aerie, Tommy Hilfiger, and a feature in Teen Vogue magazine.
Here’s what we think is beautiful about Chelsea: she doesn’t see anything as impossible, and her attitude is one that always seeks to find a way, even when faced with uncharted territory. Her positivity is contagious and her confidence in her abilities is inspiring. If you’d like to know more about Chelsea, you can follow her Instagram @showtimewerner.
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