Soaring to New Heights

Elyse Mundelein on the Odyssey III - High Ropes Challenge Course at UCF

She goes to college, races off to dance class, interns part-time at the UCP/Bailes charter school as a teacher's aide, swims the backstroke and plays tennis in her free time.   Elyse Mundelein is your typical college co-ed except for one thing…she also has Down syndrome.  In a world where people often see disability before capability, Elyse has persevered to make her dreams come true.  With the support of her family and friends and her dogged determination, Elyse is living out her dream of going to college.  She has a motto:” You can do anything if you don’t give up.”   Ted and Tina Mundelein are Elyse’s parents and her biggest advocates.

There are moments in life that you meet someone who lifts your spirit and encourages your soul.  Elyse is one of those people who will make you stop and think twice about what is possible.  When you meet Elyse and hear her talk about what she is doing in her life as a young lady attending the University of Central Florida, you simply can’t deny that with access to opportunity and a can-do attitude, the sky is the limit.  


Elyse is the oldest of three sisters, and after attending Oviedo High School she wanted nothing more than to attend UCF.   She’s an avid dancer, a competitive swimmer, a tennis player and is currently in her second year at UCF.   While a freshman on campus she did an internship at the UCP Creative School and the School of Education. This year she is assisting in a 1 & 2 year old class at the new charter school in Research Park, UCP Bailes.  These experiences have solidified her desire to work with children when she moves beyond her college experience.  

Elyse’s face lights up as she talks about dancing hip hop at the University of Performing Arts Centre where she not only dances but helps the staff with the younger dancers.  When not in class or dancing, Elyse competes in the 200M Free and Back Stroke, but her favorite part of her week is being on campus with her friends.  She loves living out her dream of being an independent college co-ed.  One of the highlights of her college experience happened just last week when she successfully completed a high ropes course as part of her Games Analysis class. 

It was her determination that helped her to complete the Odyssey III, a 45 ft high ropes course at UCF, with her fellow classmates.  Team work and conquering fear are both critical components to success and completing the ropes course. Elyse says, “I was afraid, but my classmates helped me and made it easier.”  She wasn’t the only one who benefited from the team approach to this course; her classmates learned that working together is the only way that everyone succeeds.  As a UCF Knights football player, Bruce Miller knows how to work as a team member.  When he saw Elyse meet her goal and finish the course, he realized how the team approach translates not only to winning on the field but to winning at life.

When asked about her accomplishments and success, Elyse was quick to point out that her mother, Tina Mundelein, has been her number one teammate; “She helped me get to my dream.  We work together.”  Tina and her husband, Ted, have been instrumental in Elyse’s success.  Ever since Elyse was born, her parents have taken on roles as advocates and providers of opportunities. They made the decision early on that a diagnosis of Down syndrome wouldn’t define what their daughter was capable of.  Tina says, “We provide the opportunity and Elyse does the ‘do’.” 


Elyse has definitely soared to heights that many would never expect her achieve.  There have been many people who have helped her do this; her family, teachers, coaches and friends.  Their ‘help’ came in their ability to see her potential, extend to her the opportunities she needed to demonstrate her ability and as a result she has been able to shine with success. 

The vision and hard work of people like Ted and Tina Mundelein and their daughter Elyse is what has allowed individuals with Down syndrome to dispel the misconceptions of what is possible.  Imagine the impact she has on the 57,000 students at UCF that see her on campus and in their classes – the world must surely look different to them than it did to their parents just 20 years ago. The Down Syndrome Foundation of Florida was formed with the goal and mission to replicate this kind of opportunity-giving environment in our community.   Inclusion is a lifestyle that benefits all who participate.  

It’s our hope that more people can be touched by the spirit of possibility and grow as citizens who not only help one another, but learn more about themselves and the incredible benefits inclusion offers to those who are not limited by a label or outdated assumptions. 

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