The Lantern

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Bending over backwards

Remarkable sophomore, Vienna Qualey, volunteers as a gymnastics coach for the Special Olympics.

Vienna+Qualey+and+her+pupils+prepare+for+another+competition
Vienna Qualey and her pupils prepare for another competition

Vienna Qualey and her pupils prepare for another competition

Mandi Qualey

Mandi Qualey

Vienna Qualey and her pupils prepare for another competition

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Every Sunday night beginning early in the month of January and lasting until late June, gymnastics mats are rolled out as white chalk fills the air. For an hour and a half, the Northfield Area Special Olympics Gymnastics Team rehearses their routines in preparation for upcoming competitions. “Point your toes. Straighten your legs,” coach Vienna Qualey corrects her students. Though she is only 15 years old, Qualey is beginning her third year of coaching both the male and female gymnastics teams. With a gymnastics and dance background, the Cannon Falls High School Sophomore has always been tumbling around this sport full of flips so she has a lot to offer as a coach.

For several years, Vienna and all of her siblings were involved in gymnastics. Since Vienna’s mother was close friends with the Special Olympics head coach, Vienna and her 14 year old sister, Amelia, were asked to join the coaching staff. Becoming a coach has been one of the most life-changing experiences of Vienna’s life. “My athletes have made me grow as a person in every way imaginable and I couldn’t be more grateful for that,” Qualey states. 

To help fundraise for the Special Olympics team, Vienna has taken on the Polar Plunge for a total of six consecutive years. Despite low temperatures that prevent most Minnesotans from doing virtually any form of activity during the winter months, participants of the Polar Plunge willingly jump into bodies of freezing water. On February 9th, 2018, Vienna will be plunging once again in Rochester, Minnesota. By engaging in this exhilarating challenge, Vienna has been able to raise money for gymnastics costumes, team shirts, and equipment.

Following the day she successfully plunged into the crisp water, Vienna beamed as she walked into gymnastics practice wearing her Polar Plunge gear. ‘Coolest coach ever’ was a title that Vienna was given by her athletes because they were overjoyed to see that Vienna had completed the Plunge. “The excitement and love for what they (the gymnasts) do is the best part of the entire experience.” Qualey expressed. Fundraising and working with Special Olympics athletes has been a rewarding experience for Vienna because not only has she partnered with a thrilling and inspirational organization but she has also discovered her newfound appreciation for the people in her life.

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Bending over backwards