“This all started one night when we needed to pick up a loaf of bread at the grocery store,” said Special Olympics Wake County athlete Erin Cagle’s father, Greg. “I took her there, gave her a couple of bucks and told her to go buy it. That was a new experience for her. She came back and I could see how proud she was of herself to have done that. Everything just exploded after that.”
15 years ago, Erin moved out of her parents’ home, pursuing a greater sense of independence. That year, she was introduced to Special Olympics North Carolina (SONC) through her roommate, who competed in gymnastics. Now, at 43 years old, Erin has proven that mastering a new skill can happen at any stage of life.
“I like gymnastics because it keeps me strong and healthy,” explained Erin. “I like it when I am more flexible. I have a few favorites; I like the floor exercises and the balance beam.”
Nowadays, Erin is responsible for coordinating her own schedule, which includes arranging transportation to gymnastics practices and work. Employed in the housekeeping department, Erin has worked at the Hampton Inn & Suites in Knightdale, North Carolina, since 2021. On a very ordinary workday in October of 2022, Erin would learn some extraordinary news. In the Special Olympics World Games Berlin 2023, she was selected to represent Special Olympics USA in artistic gymnastics.
“It’s always been a lot of fun for me,” said Greg. “I get a lot of enjoyment from watching her compete. This whole idea of competing for her country in the Special Olympics World Games, it just couldn’t get any better than that.”
Along with 141 Special Olympics gymnasts from across the world, Erin will compete in the women’s artistic gymnastics events of vault, uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise as well as the all-around competition. On an international stage, athletes will demonstrate what it means to by physically strong, coordinated and flexible. To be most prepared, Erin trains twice weekly at Sonshine Gymnastics in Holly Springs, North Carolina, with her local coach, Brenda Candland.
“Luckily, her Special Olympics World Games coach sent me a whole list of things that we can work on, which ranges from conditioning, fine-tuning her skills and building her strength,” said Candland. “We’re working on perfecting her routines… I’m proud of her, she’s so positive. We’re just working on all those things to get her where she needs to go.”
Erin, who also trains in Alpine skiing and tennis, radiates positivity in all terrains. She has a natural ability to make others feel loved and important. In 2013, Erin was presented the SONC Robb Williams Tennis Sportsmanship Award, an award created to honor the memory of SONC athlete Robb Williams, his love for tennis and his value of sportsmanship.
Reflecting on her many life achievements, Erin remarks, “My mom would be very proud of me.” Following the devastating loss of her mother, Erin is fueled by the desire to continue making both of her parents proud.
“When she started Special Olympics, she had only been living on her own for less than a year,” said Greg. “I’ve just seen Erin grow incredibly as a human being, not just as a gymnast. She was not used to being independent, but she has achieved more than I could have ever imagined in the past 15 years.”
The achievement of representing Special Olympics USA in the Special Olympics World Games is one that few will ever earn, but one that an entire world will celebrate.