Down Syndrome Girl Unable to Walk Until the Age of 2 Is Now a Special Olympian, Model

December 12, 2020 Updated: January 15, 2021

Special Olympian Chelsea Werner has been able to break yet more barriers for people with disabilities and inspire them with a second career in front of the cameras: modeling.

The two-time defending World Champion gymnast was born with Down syndrome. Doctors told her parents that she would have a low muscle tone among other things, and she didn’t learn to walk until almost the age of 2, but she defied the stereotypes of her genetic disorder by showing a flair for sports at an early age.

Epoch Times Photo
(Courtesy of Lisa Werner)

At the age of 8, Chelsea began participating in various sports. She tried her hand at soccer, swimming, and gymnastics. Witnessing her passion for gymnastics, Chelsea’s supportive parents encouraged their daughter by enrolling her in Special Olympics gymnastics training.

It was in fact there that Chelsea’s coach, Dawn Pombo, prepared her to compete in the 2012 Special Olympics National Gymnastics Championships, reports My Modern Met, and Chelsea came out on top.

She has since won three additional National Championships.

Epoch Times Photo
(Courtesy of Lisa Werner)
Epoch Times Photo
(Courtesy of Jason Konrad)

“I’ve been at the top of the gymnastics world for probably ten years now,” Chelsea told Forbes. “I still enjoy it, but it’s not my entire life.”

Chelsea was then headhunted by New York-based modeling agency We Speak in 2016. She jumped at the opportunity to try something new and raise visibility for underrepresented people in the fashion industry.

“[I] discovered I really loved it,” she said.

Epoch Times Photo
(Courtesy of Lisa Werner)

“Chelsea has been in front of the camera most of her life and is very comfortable with it,” Chelsea’s mother, Lisa, reasoned, “and that really helps with the modeling.”

Chelsea’s first modeling job was for the clothing brand H&M, which was filmed in Havana, Cuba, cementing the young model’s adoration for traveling the world. Chelsea has since traveled extensively and done quite a few campaigns for Aerie, Tommy Hilfiger, Summersault Swimwear, Target, and many more. Chelsea has even graced the cover of Teen Vogue and walked the ramp for New York Fashion Week.

Epoch Times Photo
(Courtesy of Lisa Werner)

Making space for more diverse representation in fashion, says Lisa, will help challenge discrimination in the industry. While racial or plus-size diversity is becoming more mainstream, people with disabilities are near-invisible by comparison.

“A large segment of the population has some form of a disability,” Lisa told The Epoch Times via email, “and they deserve representation and opportunities just like everyone else.”

“Chelsea has fought very hard for her success and hopefully she is breaking down some barriers for others to follow in her footsteps,” she further added.

Epoch Times Photo
(Courtesy of Lisa Werner)

Chelsea kindly claims that the fashion industry is hard for all models. However, despite the many challenges in her own life, she describes herself as a “very positive person” who never gives up.

“I have a lot of people rooting for me and a good team behind me,” she explained. “I’m pretty stubborn and work very hard. The way my parents raised me really made me feel good about myself.”

Chelsea’s confidence and tenacity have even earned her a nickname: “Showtime.”

Epoch Times Photo
(Courtesy of Elina Khachaturyan)

“Whenever there is a camera or an audience, I am at my best,” she joked.

The model and gymnast also shares her life and champions inclusivity on her Instagram page, where she has amassed over 181,000 followers, thousands of likes, and daily affirmations. Chelsea is happy to be a role model.

“If I can help give anyone hope, that makes me very happy and proud,” she asserted.

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