A Chester toddler who has special needs is officially the youngest ever gymnast to represent Great Britain in an international gymnastics event.
Sam Rozzell-Howens, from Newton, who has Down’s Syndrome, took part in the world’s biggest gymnastics display at the World Gymnaestrada in Helsinki, Finland in July at the tender age of just three.
More than 25,000 gymnasts from 50 countries performed at the event, which is held every four years, but only three of the teams featured gymnasts with disabilities.
As impressive as his achievement is, Sam, now four, has been a keen gymnast since he was just a few months old, having followed in the footsteps of his mum Dawn, a former elite gymnast, and grandfather Dave Rozzell, who is a coach at Ormskirk-based Spartac Gymnastics Club where Sam trains.
Dawn, 43, said gymnastics has helped hugely with her son’s development, both mentally and physically.
“It’s helped immensely with his motor skills - Sam was able to walk before he was two, but activities like being on the beam, climbing and general jumping skills have also helped his development massively,” she said.
“In a way, because we’ve done lots of these gymnastics events, it was kind of old hat but it was still so special, especially for Sam. We all went along in our GB kits which was so exciting!
“We were bunking down in the sports hall on airbeds and sleeping bags amongst 25,000 participants. We had sheets and a washing line to separate the room, girls on one side and boys on the other - it was like a big camp out!”
Dawn added: “It was a lot to take in for Sam - there were thousands at the opening ceremony, with three football pitch fields full of people. The opening ceremony was quite surreal with people singing and dancing at the same time. It felt like a concert and now when I put it on Youtube Sam keeps dancing and clapping his hands.”
Their performance was set to music from War of the Worlds outside a large church in Helsinki’s Senate Square and ends with Sam balancing on Dawn’s shoulders.
“It’s nice how we get involved in it as well but he's too young for us not to and we have to consider that,” said Dawn. “But Sam knows exactly when he has to do things, he understands positioning and everything. Now it’s just a case of learning our next display!”