Chelsea Werner is more than a gymnast
Winning athlete, successful model, pioneer of inclusion. The portrait of ‘Showtimewerner’
A story that can inspire, that can break stereotypes. A story that can change internal and external perceptions, that can change lives.
Chelsea Werner is a winning gymnast, Chelsea Werner is an established model, Chelsea Werner was born with Down syndrome.
For this American athlete, artistic gymnastics meant much more than the two world gold medals and the four Special Olympics national titles: parallels and balance beams have become a way to discover an unexpected life made up of personal satisfactions and evolutions, of a positive impact on the collectivity.
The intense portraits of Alejandro Poveda lead us into the world of ‘Showtimewerner’, a pioneer who, with her deeds, is marking the path of contemporary inclusion. A multifaceted inclusion, which ranges from international competitions to the modeling career that began recklessly and, today, has reached an incredible level of resonance (as demonstrated, for example, by the recent H&M campaign).
We were lucky enough to chat with Chelsea and her mother Lisa, trying to explore a story that goes beyond simple sporting excellence.
What does artistic gymnastics mean to you and what role has it played in your life?
Gymnastics has been part of my life ever since I can remember. At first it was a fun activity to do with friends. When I started competing with Special Olympics I really loved the crowd cheering for me. When I started training with a coach who saw past my disability I really started to improve. I learned to work really hard. I became very confident and was at my best under pressure. That’s when I got my nickname ‘Showtimewerner’. I think that confidence and work ethic has helped me in all areas of my life.
What value did international victories have for you? Did you experience them as simple sporting achievements or as something more?
I felt very proud of my two World Championship victories! I loved seeing the American Flag being raised and hearing my National Anthem playing.
Gymnastics and medals, the world of fashion and cameras: is there some feeling or emotion inside you that unites these two worlds?
From a young age I became very comfortable in front of a camera. I loved being in front of a camera. When I did my first modeling job for H&M in Havana, Cuba, I fell in love with modeling. I love the excitement that both competing in gymnastics and modeling bring into my life.
How important do you think it’s to break the stereotype walls in modern society? And how useful do you think are, from this point of view, media such as sport and the world of fashion?
This question is answered by Lisa, Chelsea’s mother.
As Chelsea’s mom I see the importance and value in what Chelsea has done and is continuing to do. When Chelsea was born there were very few role model’s of individuals with Down Syndrome. The future did not look very promising for Chelsea.
Thanks to media people around the world are able to see what Chelsea has accomplished. It has given so much hope to new parents who are looking for guidance and inspiration for their children. It’s so rewarding to hear how Chelsea is helping so many people around the world. A great example of this is Chris Nikic. Chris just became the first individual with Down Syndrome to complete an Ironman Triathlon. Chris’s father wrote us a letter saying the only reason they thought it was at all possible was because they had followed Chelsea’s story.
What are your future projects? Will you still be able to maintain a balance between these two universes in your life? And will there also be time to work on something else?
Because of COVID-19 many events have been canceled. I am now training and competing in USA GYMNASTICS (with my non-disabled peers). I am back with my original coach Dawn, who took me to my two World Championships. I am excited to be learning new skills and my gymnastics has never been better. In addition to my modeling agencies in New York and LA I’m now signed with Milk Modeling Management in London. I will be going to London as soon as restrictions are lifted. I love my hip hop dance class and hanging out with my friends. I am also an aunt and have 3 nephews and a niece that are the best!
Text by Gianmarco Pacione
Photo by Alejandro Poveda
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