Special Olympics Norway: From gymnast to Head Coach

Katelyn Garbin from Oslo, Norway has grown from a talented young Special Olympics gymnast into Head Coach of the Norwegian Rhythmic Gymnastics team. And her mother and niece are right by her side driving forward the growth of Special Olympics gymnastics in Norway!
Two women sit among a group of children all wearing matching blue t-shirts.
Brenda and Katelyn Garbin with young Special Olympics Norway Rhythmic Gymnasts.

In 1998, at the age of five, Katelyn Garbin took her first steps as gymnast. Little did she know that 20 years later, she would become Special Olympics Norway’s Head Coach, leading the team through international tournaments, including the recent Regional Special Olympics rhythmic gymnastics competitions in Slovakia!

As a young girl, Katelyn competed in mainstream gymnastics competitions at local, regional and national level. In fact, for seven years, she was the only gymnast with intellectual disabilities on the circuit. Her mother, Brenda Garbin—herself a gymnastics judge—notes, “Our goal was for her never to come last—and she never did”.

Three women – all with lanyards around their necks and two of whom are in tracksuits – stand side by side facing the camera and smiling. In the background is a gym floor, seating and banners.
Brenda Garbin, her daughter, Katelyn Garbin and her granddaughter, Sarah Lunov, at the Regional Special Olympics Rhythmic Gymnastics competitions in Slovakia.

In 2003, at the age of 10, Katelyn discovered the Special Olympics movement following the Special Olympics World Games in Dublin and she was quick to sign up. At the Special Olympics World Games in Shanghai in 2007, Katelyn won five gold medals, and over the course of her glittering gymnastics career, she has racked up 45 gold, eight silver and five bronze medals from competitions across the globe.

Katelyn says, “After I started in Special Olympics, all of a sudden had a chance to come in first place. That does not normally happen in my life.”

As Katelyn entered her 20s, her thoughts turned to coaching. She embarked on the challenging ‘Coach 1’ course with the Norwegian Gymnastics Federation. When it came time for assessment, Katelyn was permitted to take an oral examination rather than written, and to her delight, she passed. With a well-respected coaching certification in hand, Katelyn was soon promoted to Head Coach for the Special Olympics Rhythmic Gymnastics team.

A white certificate with writing in Swedish and the name ‘Katelyn Garbin’ on it.
Katelyn Garbin’s ‘Coach 1’ course certification from the Norwegian Sports Federation.

Katelyn, says, “I love helping my gymnasts to do their best and I think I understand them because of my own experience and because we are the same.” In March of this year, Katelyn made her return to the Special Olympics World Games – this time as a coach in Abu Dhabi.

Katelyn isn’t the only remarkable sportswoman in her family. Her mother, Brenda, is a well-respected international judge who does trojan work to promote and advance Special Olympics gymnastics across the country. Her niece, Sarah Lunov, is Head Coach for Special Olympics Mini Rhythmic Gymnastics group for 5-7 year olds. From mother, Brenda to daughter, Katelyn, to niece, Sarah – all three represented Norway in different capacities at the recent Regional Special Olympics Rhythmic Gymnastics competitions in Slovakia!

Reflecting on her journey with Special Olympics, Katelyn concludes, “Being able to compete and be Head Coach in a sport I love, travelling and meeting new people made my life comparable to everyone else’s. It makes me feel like I am important and a part of society like everyone else. I have the same opportunities as my peers. That is what Special Olympics has done for me.”

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