BELLEVUE – Frannie Ronan’s classmates at St. Madeleine Sophie School helped spring a surprise on her — the 8-year-old gymnast gets to compete in the Special Olympics USA Games in July.
Frannie, who has Down syndrome, will be the youngest competitor in the national games, being held in Seattle July 1–6.
“Special Olympics is cool and fun,” the second-grader said.
In an interview, Frannie said she was surprised and excited to learn she made the Washington state team, news that was announced during a Jan. 5 assembly at the Bellevue school. The event included members of the Sea Gals cheer squad and law enforcement officers, including Redmond Police Department Lt. Erik Scairpon, who appeared in a Special Olympics video with Frannie.
With the help of coach Elaine Walker, Frannie Ronan practices on the beam during class at Seattle Gymnastics Academy on Jan. 11. Photo: Stephen Brashear
Her favorite part of the announcement, Frannie said, was hearing her friends cheer for her.
“It was just cool to have all these people in the room to share this big moment for Frannie,” said her mother, Becky Ronan.
The announcement was also a surprise for Frannie’s parents, because Frannie earned a silver medal during the fall games in 2017. But when one of the gold medalists withdrew from gymnastics to participate in standup paddle boarding (athletes can only participate in one sport), the names of the silver medalists were put in a hat, and Frannie’s name was drawn to take the open spot on the team.
At 8 years old, Frannie Ronan will be the youngest competitor at the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games being held in Seattle July 1–6. Frannie is a second-grader at St. Madeleine Sophie School in Bellevue. Photo: Courtesy St. Madeleine Sophie School
“Receiving that news at [the school] was something special,” said Frannie’s father, Michael Ronan, who is an executive board member for the Special Olympics 2018 Games. He also has served on the board for Special Olympics Washington.
Some 17,500 competitors in Washington state participate in Special Olympics. Frannie is among the 200 athletes named to the team that will represent the state in the USA Games.
“She’s a wonderful example of what Special Olympics is all about,” said Dave Lenox, president and CEO of Special Olympics Washington.
Although Special Olympics competitors usually have to be at least 12 years old, Lenox said organizers decided to allow 8-year-old Frannie to participate in the national games because she lives locally, and teams from two other states have younger gymnasts who want to compete.
Frannie, who has been participating in gymnastics for most her life, will compete in four areas —floor exercise, bars (her favorite), vault and balance beam.
The Ronans are members of St. Madeleine Sophie Parish, and Michael Ronan said their Catholic faith gives his family a positive perspective, along with moral and spiritual strength. The parish and school provide a “security blanket” for the family, he said.
“I applaud [St.] Madeleine Sophie for creating a welcoming spirit,” he said.
“Their mission is to be inclusive,” Becky Ronan added. “They’re doing it and doing it well. It benefits everybody.”
Frannie Ronan is surrounded by schoolmates as they celebrate the news that she has been named to the Washington state team for the national Special Olympics competition in July. Photo: Courtesy St. Madeleine Sophie School
Dan Sherman, St. Madeleine Sophie’s principal, noted the school’s commitment to diversity has been part of the school’s mission since it opened in 2005.
“We try to create a program of general education that is open to enrolling student from all abilities,” he said.
About 40 percent of St. Madeleine Sophie students have individual student support plans, which outline what each student needs to be successful in the classroom, Sherman said. Some students at the school receive tuition support from the Fulcrum Foundation.
Frannie and the rest of the Washington state Special Olympics team were introduced to the public during a Jan. 11 event at Seattle’s Westlake Park. Afterward, Frannie and the other athletes headed to the Washington Athletic Club for an afternoon training camp.
But Frannie has already been working out — after learning she made the team, Lenox said, Frannie was busy practicing her cartwheels.
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Volunteer for Special Olympics
Volunteers are needed to support the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games, slated July 1–6 in Seattle.
Partnering in the effort are the Archdiocese of Seattle’s Office for Catholic Schools, Inclusion Ministry and CYO Athletics, as well as the Fulcrum Foundation and the Washington State Chapter of the Knights of Columbus.
Volunteers are needed on these dates:
Frannie Ronan celebrates with her mother, Becky Ronan, after a surprise assembly at St. Madeleine Sophie School in Bellevue Jan. 5 to announce Frannie has been named to the Washington state team for the national Special Olympics competition in July. Photo: Courtesy St. Madeleine Sophie School
- June 29 – Welcome athletes, coaches, families and others as they arrive at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Serve as greeters, baggage claim helpers, baggage carriers and hospitality guides to the light rail station.
- June 30 – Mass for the athletes, 7 p.m. at the University of Washington campus. Greet participants and provide hospitality support.
- July 1 – Mile-long cheer line, 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Line pathways as athletes make their way from UW dorms to Husky Stadium for the opening ceremony (12:30–3:30 p.m., with lighting of the Special Olympics cauldron).
Learn more about volunteering for the Special Olympics games.
Watch Frannie Ronan in a Special Olympics video, along with Redmond Police Department Lt. Erik Scairpon and former Seattle Supersonic Luke Ridnour.