A World of Opportunities
April 20, 2011
Doctors said Lani is “never going to achieve anything.” She defies their low expectations every day. She is a graceful gymnast and leads by example, mentoring other athletes.
Watch Lani DeMello take the floor and hear mom Ana talk about what Special Olympics has meant for Lani. View video
Remember Lani DeMello? She was born with intellectual disabilities and a heart defect, and her doctors didn’t believe that she was ever going to amount to much. As they discharged Lani from the hospital as an infant, doctors told her mother, “Take her home. She’s never going to achieve anything.” Flash forward 25 years and Lani is a Special Olympics gold medalist many times over and a source of inspiration to her friends and family. Now, when not competing, Lani gives back to the community both through her work at a local health clinic and as a Special Olympics coach, serving as a mentor and role model to other athletes.
As a young girl, Lani showed an interest in dance and spent several years taking classes at a local ballet studio. Ana recalls watching her daughter’s recitals and straining to see Lani at the back of the stage. Although she tried hard, Lani could never quite keep up with the other dancers and was never given the opportunity to shine. Then, when Lani was 13, a friend recommended that she sign up to participate in Special Olympics. There, Lani finally had the support she needed. The change, Ana says, was almost immediate. At Lani’s first gymnastics competition, she won almost exclusively gold medals and, for the first time in her life, realized her own potential.
From that day on, Ana and her husband Donald made the commitment to drive their daughter 52 miles twice a week to the nearest gymnastics training facility in Georgia. To them, the commute was nothing if it meant that they could bring happiness and achievement into their daughter’s life. Now, 52 miles seems insignificant when compared with the distances that Lani has traveled to compete nationally and internationally. Ana says she is still astonished at the opportunities her daughter has had in her life. “When you have a child with an intellectual disability, you think your world is going to be closed. Special Olympics has opened a whole new world for Lani and given her opportunities that we never dreamed would be possible for our daughter.”
Road to Athens
This summer, Lani will be traveling to the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Athens, Greece as an intern for the Special Olympics International Technical Delegate for Rhythmic Gymnastics, Cindy Bickman. There, she will be assisting Cindy with logistics and helping to prepare other athletes for competition. This should be a piece of cake for Lani – four years ago she received her coaching certification and has been assisting with the Georgia gymnastics program ever since.
The DeMellos are thrilled about this opportunity and are confident that their daughter will be an asset to the team. “Lani is such a great assistant,” Ana says with pride, “She can be the performer and she can be the cheerleader.” For her part, Lani is looking forward to sharing her experience and skills with her peers.
Unwilling to miss the action, both Ana and Donald will be accompanying their daughter to Greece to support her in her new role. While Ana performs her duties as the official hair and makeup artist for the U.S. gymnastic team, Donald will be helping to cheer the athletes on.
Discipline to Succeed
When not coaching or training, Lani applies her incredible discipline and drive to pursuits outside of athletics. Once a week, she works at a local health clinic pulling charts and interacting with patients. Ana says that employment brings Lani a lot of satisfaction and gives her the opportunity to display all the skills she has developed through Special Olympics. “Special Olympics is at the root of her success in a job environment. She is great at dealing with people and talking to people of all circumstances.”
Help Us Reach Out to One More Person
What does the future hold for Lani? The DeMellos have no doubt that their daughter will continue on her road to success, both as a coach and an athlete. Still, they maintain that Lani is more focused on the present and on doing her best each day. Regardless of what lies ahead, there is one thing, Ana says, of which they are sure. “Without Special Olympics, none of this would have been possible.”
For every athlete like Lani DeMello there are many more we have not yet reached. Help us reach out to one more person who wants to participate in Special Olympics. Donate today.