Gymnast with Down syndrome defies odds, prepares for 3rd international championship

ByLena Howland KGO logo
Friday, August 18, 2023
Local gymnast with Down syndrome prepares for 3rd world championship
Meet 31-year-old Chelsea Werner out of Danville, a two-time gymnastics world champion preparing to head to her third Down Syndrome International World Championships.

DANVILLE, Calif. -- Meet 31-year-old Chelsea Werner who is preparing to head to the Down Syndrome International World Championships for gymnastics.

From the floor to the vault, the beam, and the bars, with a little trial and error, Werner comes to the gym four times a week to perfect her craft.

"We're now at a point where it's just no different than coaching any of the other kids," Dawn Pombo, her coach said.

Werner says she's been doing gymnastics for her whole life.

Werner has spent the past six years in USA Gymnastics with individuals without disabilities, even making it to the state championships this year.

Next month, she's headed to South Africa to compete in the Down Syndrome International World Championships.

"It seemed like a great experience, her gymnastics has never been better than it is now so the competition will be tough but Chelsea's ready," Lisa Werner, Chelsea's mom said.

Werner is no stranger to the international stage.

She won first place in the same competition first in London and then in Italy six years ago.

"Chelsea was way better than anybody else that was at that competition," Pombo said. "They didn't have the skills that Chelsea was doing even listed and so they didn't know how to value her routines initially."

Pombo has been working with Chelsea for around two decades now. But when they started, she had no experience working with kids with special needs.

"It was a learning curve for both of us when she first started, we'd get on the beam and she would get on the beam and then fall off and she would just sit down and I'm like no, get back up, you have to do it again," she said.

But with a lot of practice, Chelsea never gave up and continued to prove others wrong, defying the odds.

"I treat her like anybody like she doesn't have Down syndrome, right, she comes in the gym, you have to do a handstand and you gotta do a handstand," she said.

And that hard work has paid off, ten-fold, her mom says gymnastics has opened up a number of other doors for her that wouldn't have otherwise been possible.

Including, a career in modeling, even making it on the cover of Teen Vogue and now serving as a social media influencer on Instagram under the handle "ShowtimeWerner" inspiring other parents of kids with Down syndrome across the world.

"It just gives them so much hope because sometimes when you have a little child, you just think, there's not going to be opportunities for my little child with Down syndrome, and Chelsea and other athletes are proving that that's completely untrue, that the sky's the limit," Lisa Werner said.

As for South Africa, Werner says she's ready.

And Pombo believes taking home another international title is just one back handspring away.

"If she does what we practice, she will win," Pombo said.