“Shining Star” Gia Lasswell, an Inspiration

By Marty Bitter, MUSD Athletic Director

I have been a sports junkie since I can remember! Sports, both directly and indirectly, along with some wonderful guidance from my parents, have shaped me into the person I am today. I have had some of my highest highs and lowest lows and can recite almost every game in which I have ever been involved. My closest friends, in school and to this day, are predominantly made up of those with whom I have participated or come in contact through sports. I believe the most uniquely exciting thing about sports is that they are so unpredictable, and one can never truly know the outcome until the game is played! Athletics have become my career, passion, and inspiration! Athletics provide a tool that effectively teach the most valued traits we need to become successful and productive adults! It is the remarkable accomplishments that inspire me to want to continue to serve our wonderful student athletes of the Madera Unified School District. There are, however, certain athletes and performances that stand above the rest. Over the last two years, I have witnessed one such phenomenon: one of Madera Unified School District’s most inspiring student athletes. Her name is Gia Laswell and she is a 6th grade student at Berenda Elementary. I have been inspired by her courage and determination, as I have watched her compete in cross country and cheer in our MULES (Madera Unified League of Elementary Schools) program. Cross country is one of the sports that is synonymous with Madera. We have had many student athletes go on to earn college scholarships running cross country, but Gia is an inspiration to us all and personifies what make sports so special. You see Gia is blind. She runs with her best friend Aurora Cantu, side by side, and wins every race! She may not be the first one, in every race, to cross the finish line, but she wins every race. The sheer joy exudes as her and Aurora jog the course. After watching, I had to go out to Berenda to meet Gia, find out how she chose cross country, and let her know how inspiring she is to me. I must tell you — within 5 minutes of meeting her — I had goosebumps and wanted to go out and run a race! So many times, we get to hear from people, in this day and age, all the reasons why they simply can’t do something. Gia knows she can do anything. She sets her mind and is never afraid to try anything new. Now some things might take a little more convincing, but she eventually comes around to give her best at whatever she chooses. Gia and Aurora met in 1st grade, at Berenda, in Ms. Beakes’ class. Aurora wanted nothing to do with starting 1st grade and was crying on her first day of school, when her mom Victoria, who also happens to be the cross-country coach at Berenda, dropped her off. Ms. Beakes came over to Aurora and asked if she would like to meet a new friend in the class. Ms. Beakes said her name is Gia and she is blind. Aurora said, “What does blind mean?” After an explanation the two struck up an instant friendship which has become an unbreakable bond. There aren’t many times you will find Gia without Aurora or vice versa. Gia started cheer and dance when she was 6 or 7 and then Aurora asked her to run cross country in the 5th grade. She plans on continuing, hopefully both cheer and cross country, in Middle School. I asked Gia what her favorite other activities were, and she mentioned UNICEF Kid Power, a program through which students realize their everyday activities that can have a real-world impact. Students have an app linked to their Fitbit where their physical activity is linked to digital currency, which, subsequently, gets used to meet the needs of those who are less privileged. She gathers steps and then earns credits. The credits get turned in to help provide food for the needy. I asked her how she became such a caring person and she said she learned it from her mom Megan Laswell, who also happens to be a teacher at Berenda. Another one of her favorite hobbies is having sleepovers with Aurora, where they have dance parties together. They have a blast making up crazy dances together!

Some of Gia’s other favorites:

  • She loves her full-time aid Tracy Harlow.
  • Gia’s favorite Teacher is Mrs Mitchell (4th grade), because they got to do lots of art projects, and Mrs. Mitchell is really funny!
  • Gia’s favorite Subject is math. Gia says, “It makes sense to me.” She loves that there is more than one way to solve problems and there is always an answer.
  • Gia’s favorite memory, at Berenda, was in 3rd grade, when she was able to learn about the solar system.
  • Gia learned braille, beginning in Kinder, and has taught Aurora some of it. Aurora even made Gia a birthday card written in braille.
  • Gia is an accomplished piano player, which she started playing at age 7. She is also able to play the violin, mallets, and is learning to play drums. She can read music and then memorizes her parts.
Gia says she might be blind but feels her other senses are better than most others’. She is one of Madera Unified’s shining stars and I hope she continues her athletic career as long as she wants. Gia represents everything that athletics should be about, and I hope she continues to inspire and make the lives of everyone she meets better. I know I am a better person because I have met Gia Laswell!

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