HOUSTON — One of the toughest competitors in youth gymnastics catches the eyes of everyone in the room — a beautiful thing, because she herself cannot see.
Adrianna Kenebrew, 11, earns high marks at each of her gymnastics meets. While most would struggle to stand for more than a few seconds on the balance beam, Adrianna conquers it with grace and confidence. She soars through the air on the vault and uneven bars and tumbles across the performance floor like a champion.
“I just always wanted to flip and swing,” Adrianna told Today Parents.
What makes Adrianna so remarkable is that, unlike the peers with whom she competes, this sixth-grader can hardly see the apparatuses on which she performs. At just 4 months old, she was diagnosed with congenital glaucoma, an irreversible condition that left her legally blind by the age of 3.
She’s had more than a dozen eye surgeries and is set to have another later this month. Her condition has left her extremely nearsighted and lacking nearly all peripheral vision. She carries a cane when she walks and relies on a magnifying machine and monocular lens to help her in school.
For this girl, gymnastics is freedom. That’s because the gym is one of the only places where she’s treated just like everyone else.
“Everything is the same,” Adrianna’s mom, Asha Kenebrew, told Today. “She gets on the same balance beam as everyone else.”
While her coaches give her vocal cues as she’s approaching the vault, it’s the only special assistance she receives while performing. While some may find that independence intimidating, Adrianna finds it empowering.
“I don’t know, but I think that may be why she loves the sport,” her mother said.
Adrianna took up gymnastics three years ago and has been devoted to her craft ever since. All her hard work has paid off — just last year, the Texas Amatuer Athletic Association recognized her as the prestigious Female Athlete of the Year for her region — a title for which hundreds of students vied.
Adrianna has no plans to slow down anytime soon. In fact, her disability only makes her work harder, she said.
“I want to be the first visually-impaired gymnast to win gold at the Olympics,” she said. “I like who I am.”