Canadian rhythmic gymnast Ashley Wilwand came home from this summer’s Special Olympics with five medals around her neck and a store full of teammates eager to congratulate her.
Ashley’s achievements made her the first Manitoban rhythmic gymnast to qualify for the World Games in 20 years. And she’s done it all to honor the memory of her mother.
“My mother passed away in 2010 from cancer. She’s the one who got me started in this, and she’s the reason I didn’t quit,” Ashley explained.
Her parents found out about Special Olympics when she was in grade school and decided to send Ashley’s two sisters. Ashley, who has Asperger’s syndrome, often watched the girls practice, and it looked like so much fun that she decided to join them.
“Everybody gets the opportunity to compete and qualify in Special Olympics. With practice, I worked my way up,” Ashley said.
Her winning routine combined elements of gymnastics, ballet and yoga. For nine years, she trained four days a week. Now the medalist is turning her attention to coaching other athletes.
“I’ve met a lot of friends, and it’s become a big part of my life. That’s why I’m not completely retiring,” Ashley said.
She balances her sport with a full-time job as a sales associate at Walmart store #3117 in Winnipeg, Canada, where the hard work and determination that made her a champion gymnast are serving her just as well in the cosmetics and apparel departments. She appreciates the support she gets from her teammates.
“I feel like I have about 30 [relatives] and they’re excited for me,” Ashley said of her fellow associates, adding that her management also helped by organizing her work schedule so she could meet the demands of training for the Special Olympics.
“I’m pretty proud,” Ashley said. “To say that I competed and represented Canada is a good feeling.”
“The team has really rallied around Ashley’s accomplishments,” said her manager, Ryan Trubyk. “She’s given our store something to celebrate beyond our business. She’s helped to unify our team. And, of course, we’re very proud to have her as our teammate.”