Spartans host Flip for Autism Awareness day
For the first home meet in three weeks, the MSU gymnastics team will be making history.
Hosting Illinois at 6:30 p.m. on Friday at Jenison Field House, the Spartans will have their “Flip for Autism Awareness Meet” — one of the first athletic events for autism at MSU.
The event was organized by head coach Kathie Klages and Dr. Larry Nassar, the MSU gymnastics team physician, the U.S. gymnastics national medical coordinator and the founder of the Gymnastics Doctor Autism Foundation.
Originally inspired by the various breast cancer awareness athletic events, Nassar wants to take that concept and apply it to autism awareness, particularly because his daughter has autism.
“His belief is that autistic children can gain a lot from participating in gymnastic classes,” Klages said. “So he is trying to get the word out that special needs kids can benefit from gymnastics.”
With the growing statistics regarding children with autism, Nassar said he hopes this event will encourage people to learn more about autism and how they can help.
To further help with raising awareness, U.S. Olympic gymnast Nastia Liukin will be at the meet as a favor to Nassar. Doors will open at 5 p.m., and Liukin will sign autographs and take pictures until 6 p.m.
If attendees make a donation to Gymnastics Doctor Autism Foundation, they will receive free admission to the meet.
“(Liukin) is so gracious to be willing to take pictures and sign autographs and just be present,” Klages said. “That kind of celebrity being here at Michigan State University is huge, and I think it just measures what Dr. Nassar means to the gymnastics community.”
To demonstrate how gymnastics can help autistic children grow and develop in and outside of athletics, a group of special needs gymnasts of all ages will perform before the Spartans take the stage. Klages said she’s excited for the crowd to see the children perform.
Additionally, Nassar said Jenison Field House will be decorated with numerous signs with inspirational catch phrases to get people interested in his foundation and its cause.
“It’s going to be a very thought-provoking event,” Nassar said. “It’s going to be an event where you’ll experience more than just a gymnastics meet, so we’re going to do that through talking with people (and) through signs.”
After having so much success with the Flip for a Cure event, a breast cancer awareness meet on Jan. 22 against Minnesota, MSU is hoping for a similar turnout for autism awareness.
After this event, Nassar hopes autism awareness will be a concept incorporated into other gymnastics programs and athletic events, especially since this concept is “very near and dear” to his heart. He believes gymnastics can facilitate and nurture children with autism and said he hopes this meet will encourage participation.
“It’s a matter of using gymnastics — something I’ve dealt with for 30-some years — and autism and combining the two together,” Nassar said. “It’s a way of taking my personal life with my daughter with autism (and) combining it with my professional life with gymnastics.”
Standing behind Nassar’s cause, the Spartans said they’re honored to participate in the meet and hope other athletic programs get involved as well, senior gymnast Kelsey Morley said.
“We just want to be in full support of him,” she said. “We’ve always had fun doing the breast cancer awareness meet, so the fact that we’re doing the first-ever autism meet means a lot for our university and for our team.”