Lexi Tucker is an 8-year-old who has participated in extra-curricular activities including Tae Kwon Do and T-ball. But according to her mother Shelley, neither of those were her daughter’s cup of tea.

Lexi would rather do cartwheels, a skill she and her mother didn’t even know she had until she joined the Indiana Ultimate Wings team.

“When she started, she couldn’t jump in place,” her mother said of Lexi, who has Down syndrome. “Now she can do cartwheels. She absolutely loves it.”

Indiana Ultimate Wings is a cheerleading team made up of people with special needs that meets twice weekly at Indiana Ultimate Gym, 3016 Wilden Ave., Goshen The team consists of 12 people from Elkhart and LaGrange counties who range in age from 8 to 49.

The group is about to see the fruits of its labor.

The team will travel to Orlando in April to compete in the World Cheerleading Championship. Indiana Ultimate Wings is one of three special needs teams from across the country invited to compete.

Head coach Sally O’Connor explained that she doesn’t take it easy on the team just because the members have special needs.

“They joke with each other. They harass each other. But they really love each other,” O’Connor said.

The program began in the summer of 2007 as a way to provide a safe, fun and positive learning environment for people of any age with special needs. While having such a vast range of ages and personalities may seem like a challenge, the team works very well together.

“They don’t see an age difference. They don’t see different disabilities. They are all part of the same team,” Tucker said.

O’Connor said they have been working on the routine they are taking to Orlando since July of last year, but have been making modifications throughout the year as their skill levels have increased. One team member, Darren Miller, a freshman at NorthWood, has recently learned how to do a backflip, which has been added to the program.

Tumbling runs in Miller’s family, as he has a sister who also participates in the sport. He has been a part of Indiana Ultimate Wings for nearly a year at the encouragement of Northwood’s cheerleading coach and said he really enjoys it.

“It’s a good experience, but it’s hard work, too,” Miller said.

The team will leave April 22 and compete the following Saturday and Sunday before returning home. While the team members may be a little nervous heading into the World competition, O’Connell said that the improvement they have been making over the course of the year gives her all the confidence in the world that they will succeed.

“They never used to be able to finish the routine with the music. Now they are in sync with it,” O’Connell said. “I think they will do fabulous.”

Raising funds

The Indiana Ultimate Wings team will be holding fundraisers prior to its trip to Orlando. A “Hacienda Night” will take place April 15 at the Linway Plaza Hacienda. A portion of the proceed from the restaurant’s sales that day will go to the cheer team. Also, a garage sale will take place March 26-27 at the Indiana Ultimate Gym.

React to this story: