Dancing on the world stage: Group travels to South Africa for gymnastics exhibition
by Lindsay Field
July 07, 2013 12:28 AM | 3548 views | 0 0 comments | 40 40 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Chattooga School of Gymnastics team member Janet Misitano performs with dance ribbons during a rehearsal for a musical dance routine as the group prepares for a trip to South Africa for the 2013 second World Gym for Life Challenge. The team leaves today to represent the United States.
Chattooga School of Gymnastics team member Janet Misitano performs with dance ribbons during a rehearsal for a musical dance routine as the group prepares for a trip to South Africa for the 2013 second World Gym for Life Challenge. The team leaves today to represent the United States.
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Ali Lambright is hoisted into the air by Charlotte Souter, Stephanie Bitter and John Kludt during the finale of the routine.
Ali Lambright is hoisted into the air by Charlotte Souter, Stephanie Bitter and John Kludt during the finale of the routine.
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Members of the Chattooga School of Gymnastics — who are headed to the second annual World Gym for Life Challenge — are, front row from left, Lani DeMello, Dana Misiteno and Karen Davis; second row from left, Keiko Guest, Ariel Jacobson, Lindsay Wann, Nicole Hofland, Katie Jacobson, Katie Kludt and Robin Wann; third row from left, Mike Blakeney, Don DeMello, Janet Misitano, Ana DeMello, Dennie Kludt, Emily Belk, Mary Belk, Thanen Debold, John Kludt and Mamie Kerr; back row from left, Stephanie Bitterman, Alex Wann, Charlotte Souter, Kara Jacobson and Ali Lambright.
Members of the Chattooga School of Gymnastics — who are headed to the second annual World Gym for Life Challenge — are, front row from left, Lani DeMello, Dana Misiteno and Karen Davis; second row from left, Keiko Guest, Ariel Jacobson, Lindsay Wann, Nicole Hofland, Katie Jacobson, Katie Kludt and Robin Wann; third row from left, Mike Blakeney, Don DeMello, Janet Misitano, Ana DeMello, Dennie Kludt, Emily Belk, Mary Belk, Thanen Debold, John Kludt and Mamie Kerr; back row from left, Stephanie Bitterman, Alex Wann, Charlotte Souter, Kara Jacobson and Ali Lambright.
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Members of the Chattooga School of Gymnastics team surround fellow member Ali Lambright at the start of one of their musical dance routines as they prepare for their trip to South Africa.
Members of the Chattooga School of Gymnastics team surround fellow member Ali Lambright at the start of one of their musical dance routines as they prepare for their trip to South Africa.
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Chattooga School of Gymnastics team coach Cindy Bickman offers advice to Katie Jacobson, left, and Karen Davis during  rehearsal. The group is headed to South Africa today for the 2013 second World Gym for Life Challenge to represent the United States.
Chattooga School of Gymnastics team coach Cindy Bickman offers advice to Katie Jacobson, left, and Karen Davis during rehearsal. The group is headed to South Africa today for the 2013 second World Gym for Life Challenge to represent the United States.
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MARIETTA — A group of 33 people from Cobb and other metro Atlanta communities is leaving today for South Africa to represent the United States in an international gymnastics exhibition.

With the support of USA Gymnastics, members of Chattooga School of Gymnastics and Dance in Marietta are heading to Cape Town, South Africa, for 13 days to compete in the world competition.

Gym owner Cindy Bickman, who opened the gym in 1976, said Gym for Life program holds its competition every four years. For this year’s event, Chattooga was the only team chosen to represent the United States.

The trip is similar to many they have taken since 1983, giving students the chance to travel and showcase their talents. “Things like that have just presented themselves to us, so we take advantage of every opportunity that we can,” Bickman said.

They will be competing in the “Gymnastics for All” event, which means everyone on the team, no matter their age, skill level or special need, is considered a competitor.

“We have people from ages 10 to 73,” Bickman said. “Our philosophy at Chattooga is that everybody can participate so on our team we have competitive rhythmic gymnasts, Special Olympic athletes, recreational gymnasts, moms and dads, a photographer, trumpet and guitar players and Pilates students.”

This year’s routine is almost 4 minutes long and incorporates tumbling, swing dancing, acrobatic lifts, rhythmic gymnastics ribbons, hoops and other exhibitions. They are performing to two separate songs, “What a Wonderful World” and “Rock Around the Clock.”

Performers excited about trip

Janet Misitano, an east Cobb mother, will be performing with her 27-year-old daughter, Dana. She was part of the first group of adults to start competing with the group.

“I’ve been going on Cindy’s trips since 2003 with Dana,” she said. They’ve traveled to Portugal, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Estonia and Greece.

Janet and Dana Misitano started at the gym after learning about Chattooga while registering for the Special Olympics 12 years ago. Dana Misitano was born with Down syndrome.

“It’s very rewarding to participate with our daughters,” Janet said about her and the other parents. “I feel blessed that we can do this and that Cindy has encouraged our girls to focus on the abilities they have been given, rather than the disabilities.”

In this year’s performance, they will be showcasing their skills with the ribbons.

Alison Lambright of Marietta also is going. The 19-year-old Mercer University student has been a member of the gym since she was 6 and will be playing the intro trumpet piece for the show, in addition to showcasing her long ribbon talents.

This will be her fourth trip with the Chattooga group. She’s previously traveled to Austria, Switzerland and London.

She’s enjoyed being a part of this group because it showcases the talents of everyone in the group, not just adults, professional gymnasts or special needs athletes.

“We truly encompass everybody and I think that really benefits everybody on our team, not just to make them better gymnasts but to make them better people,” she said.

Atlanta resident Kara Jacobson, 43, has been a member of Chattooga since she was 8 years old. She, along with Melissa Hankinson, assisted with the team’s choreography and coaching.

“The experience has been an amazing opportunity for all us,” she said. “The mental, physical and emotional rewards are endless when we observe the joy and talent of the team.”

She is traveling to Africa with her two daughters, Ariel, 12, and Katie, 10.

Another family from Fulton County, the DeMellos, is also excited about this year’s trip.

Ana DeMello, 61, said her daughter Lani DeMello, 27, joined the gym in 2005 and is a Special Olympian who competes in rhythmic gymnastics. Lani was born with Down Syndrome.

This is the second competition that Ana DeMello and her husband, Don DeMello, have participated in. The first was in Austria four years ago.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think after Lani was born that we would be traveling all over the world showing everybody in the world that just because you are born with some kind of disability you don’t have to stay in the closet,” Ana DeMello said.

Lani DeMello said what she’s looking forward to the most with this trip is that she’ll get to celebrate her July 10 birthday at the competition.

“It’s so much fun and I’m very excited,” she said about the performance.

Don DeMello, 73, said he wouldn’t necessarily call himself a dancer but, like his wife, he’s thoroughly enjoyed dancing with their daughter.

“(Lani) is so tickled pink that I’m there,” he said. “I’ve told a couple of (friends) about my dancing and it’s been brutal but at this phase of my life, it’s somewhat surprising that you do things that you wouldn’t have done.”

Bickman said the team started practicing in May but has been fundraising and planning for the trip for about a year. The trip costs about $5,000 per person, but the gym’s foundation has helped with a lot of those costs.

“I am so proud of my team,” Bickman said. “Anything and everything is going on the floor at the same time to show off everybody’s abilities and not just featuring the most skilled athletes.

“For me, events like this are very important because it provides an opportunity for the people in my group to do things that they never thought they would do.”

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