MSU physician uses gymnastics to raise autism awareness


Two of the greatest gifts one can give another are time and love, and Dr. Larry Nassar has given plenty of both.

Nassar, the MSU gymnastics team physician, brought nine Lansing-area gymnasts diagnosed with autism to perform before the Spartans took on Ohio State on Saturday afternoon.

The gymnasts “flipped for a cure” at the third-annual Autism Awareness Meet.

“We put special needs kids on exhibition and say ‘Look what they’re capable of doing,’” Nassar said. “You don’t think they’re capable of performing in front of a crowd, and here they are demonstrating the value of physical fitness for themselves so that people can see, even with special needs kids, movement matters.”

Nassar is leading a research team that is trying to tie how movement, like gymnastics, helps special needs kids.

He said the team is going to apply for a grant from the National Institutes of Health.

“It’s going to be cross cultural from Canada to the United States,” Nassar said. “Multi-centered, different universities involved so that it will be solid research to show the value and benefits of what we do we do with these kids and how it crosses over to life skills.”

His charity, the Gymnastics Doctor Autism Foundation, focuses on improving the life of any special needs children.

Nassar has been to four Olympics and spent 27 years with the U.S. national team, and said he uses who he knows to spread his cause around the country.

“A lot of the connections that I’ve made, I’ve been able to utilize those connections to build a network to spread awareness pretty easily,” he said. “And to find there’s a lot of clubs across North America that actually do this but never know what the right hand or left hand does.”

Nassar said he has been working with gymnasts for 35 years as an athletic trainer and physician.

Head coach Kathie Klages said it’s important for the Spartans to support a cause such as autism because Nassar is an important part of the team.

“He is such a phenomenal team physician and takes so much care of these athletes,” Klages said. “He’s so knowledgeable, he’s caring. He does whatever he needs to do. It’s so nice to be able to focus on a cause and be able to draw attention to this.”

She said she was talking to a gymnast that traveled to see Nassar from Indiana, and he spent 45 minutes with her because “that’s just the kind of guy he is.”

For freshman Nicola Deans, having a cause behind her performance helps her do better in the competition.

“I’m representing a cause, not just Michigan State,” Deans said. “I feel like I’m going out and I’m doing a bit more than just gymnastics. You feel proud of what you’re doing.”

Because this is a cause near and dear to Nassar’s heart, it is important to all the gymnasts as well.

His daughter, Caroline, is autistic, and he said there is no more appropriate fusion of his two greatest loves.

“I tried to figure out my love for the sport of gymnastics with the love for my daughter Caroline,” Nassar said. “It was a perfect fit to put them together.”

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