Athletics

For Special Olympics gymnast Tatiana Goff, hard work and dedication paid off

Until three years ago, Tatiana Goff had no thought of being a gymnast. Now, she is representing Team Washington in that sport at the Special Olympics USA games, hosted across Seattle the first week of July.

Goff — who goes by Tate — used to compete as a horseback rider. In 10th grade, Goff came across a YouTube video of a gymnast doing the floor exercise.

“It looked like fun,” said Goff, who is now 19. “I was ready to get started.”

Goff’s mother, Kelly Morgan, said she didn’t waste any time.

Tate Goff and her mom
Tate Goff with her mom, Kelly Morgan

“She started watching it, and started learning conditioning before anything else,” Morgan said. “She was doing handstands up on the wall. She told everyone her goal was to be a Special Olympics gymnast.”

Seattle Pacific is hosting gymnastics events July 3, 4, and 5 in Royal Brougham Pavilion. The Special Olympics is a 50-year-old organization that provides sports training and athletic competition in Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, according to the organization’s website. The 2018 USA Games is the fourth such event the organization has hosted.

“She was doing handstands up on the wall. She told everyone her goal was to be a Special Olympics gymnast.”

Goff will perform in all four events in Tuesday’s all-around competition: vault, balance beam, uneven parallel bars, and the floor exercise. She especially hopes to make it to the final competition in the floor exercise category, since that was the first event she saw on YouTube.

“Floor is my favorite. Everyone has a good time on floor,” said Goff, who will perform to “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana, the 2016 Disney movie.

Goff, who was born in Russia and has been diagnosed with a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and autism, was adopted when she was 1 year old by Morgan and her husband, Dale Goff. At age 2, she and her family moved to Japan for two years, then spent five-and-a-half years in Singapore.

Making it happen

While she was able to participate on the gymnastics team at Bainbridge High School, where she attends, there was no Special Olympics gymnastics program on the island. Tate took the initiative to seek out those who could help form one.

“She did all of her own advocacy,” Morgan said. “She talked to her coach at school. She talked to Bainbridge Parks and Recreation, and said, ‘Please, can I do Special Olympics?’ It took a lot for them, meeting deadlines and getting paperwork turned in.”

The Parks Department already offered gymnastics, but it wasn’t Special Olympics-oriented.

“Once Tate got the ball rolling, we set up a class that was specifically for Special Olympics,” said Bryan Peterson, a gymnastics specialist within the department. “She has been the most stellar advocate for herself. She has been independent, self-motivated, and a joy to watch.”

She talked to Bainbridge Parks and Recreation, and said,“Please, can I do Special Olympics?”

Peterson added that many athletes who are on Special Olympics teams need emotional coaching as well as physical coaching. “When it comes to Special Olympics, our goal is to develop strong and capable and confident athletes,” he said.

Last December, Goff qualified for the USA Games by winning her division’s all-around competition at the Washington state meet. Later in the winter, she and her mother started taking the ferry to Seattle weekly to work out with Elaine Walker, a coach at Seattle Gymnastics Academy and the designated gymnastics coach for Team Washington’s USA Games delegation.

“She has really refined her presentation, making sure she has everything in (her routine) that she needs,” Walker said.

Tate Goff with Elaine Walker
Tate Goff and Team Washington coach Elaine Walker

Walker was particularly impressed when Goff was able to re-work her vault performance.

“She’s a visual learner, so I had some girls come over and show her what it looked like,” Walker said. “She made that change in one day.”

When the Special Olympics conclude, Goff — who made the National Honor Society at Bainbridge High — will prepare to move to Idaho, where she will join a transition program offered by Boise State University and Boise High School. The program offers students with disabilities a chance to experience college life, learn life skills, and receive job training.

But for the next few days, it’ll be all about gymnastics inside Brougham Pavilion.

“It’s fun to see her achieve her goals, and she had quite a few this year,” Morgan said. “She got herself into this competition. She impresses us every day.”

Special Olympics USA gymnastics schedule

July 3: All-around competition

July 4: Vault and balance beam

July 5: Uneven parallel bars and floor exercise finals

Gymnastics events are hosted in Royal Brougham Pavilion and are free and open to the public. For more information, visit: https://www.specialolympicsusagames.org/gymnastics-schedule

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