Ultimate Gymnastics in Waynesville has only been open since 2009, but the gymnasts who go there have been improving rapidly and snagging plenty of trophies along the way
WAYNESVILLE — Just inside the door of Ultimate Gymnastics, gobs of trophies are displayed proudly upon shelves and tables.
It's the first thing all the girls see when they walk in and the last thing they see before they walk out, a reward for the tremendous amount of effort, time and pain the gymnasts who go there put forth year-round.
“They're extremely dedicated,” says Emily Kania, the owner and coach at Ultimate Gymnastics. “But you have to be to be able to compete at this level.”
That is, level 6 of gymnastics competition (the scale goes from 1-10, and past that is “elite”).
An incredible feat for a gym that has only been open since 2009.
“That's all attributed to the kids' hard work,” Kania said. “They've put in a lot of time.”
That they do.
The amount of training time ramps up every summer to 17 hours a week across a span of three days (Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday). Which, is kind of an impressive number for kids ranging from 5-years-old to 15.
The payoff is visible, though, as the 5-year-olds meticulously go through their floor routines, snapping into poses and remembering when to show and when to fall carefully to the floor.
“They do some pretty remarkable stuff for being so little,” Kania said, smiling and shaking her head while watching one of the girls perform.
In January at a meet in Union, Missouri at Planet Gymnastics the group won in team points, something the gym has been hanging their hat on.
But they remember to stay humble at the same time, sweating it out in the gym and using every moment they have as an opportunity to get better.
Kania joked to the group that they're probably stronger at this point than their male schoolmates.
Melanie McQueen, 12, says there's no probably about it.
“Most of us are,” McQueen said, grinning from ear-to-ear. “Most of them don't work out like we do. We usually spend an hour or an hour and a half on the bars.”
She admits running her motor near the redline for three days in a row comes with its consequences though, namely soreness.
Which isn't a unique complaint.
“We all do,” says Maddie Dye, 10. “Mostly in our thighs.”
An easy tradeoff, she says, for the compliments she gets from friends and family.
“Everyone always tells me how amazing it is that I'm able to do all this stuff.”
For three of the kids, the compliments also most likely come with frequent constructive criticism as their coaches are also their parents.
One such gymnast is Molly Handley.
Molly started at Ultimate Gymnastics four years ago, and about two years ago her mother joined as a coach.
Making it slightly easier is the fact her mom usually stays with the younger kids.
“She stays with her group and I stay with mine,” says Gretchen Pueff, Molly's mother.
Gretchen and Molly both said that it was weird for a little while, but after the situation grew on them, it's just become ordinary.
It just adds to the small-town feel of Ultimate Gymnastics, which isn't a bad thing Molly says.
“It really is a small town and there's not a lot of people who come into the gym,” Molly said. “So we're with each other a lot during the school and the summer. Some of us are going to the same schools. Here we can be ourselves and hang out all the time.”
That might be the gym's recipe for success according to Gretchen.
“A lot of it has to do with the closeness,” Gretchen said. “We've had people come in and see our kids together and say they've never seen kids on a competitive team who are so close friendship-wise. I think there's a good foundation of support amongst the gymnasts themselves and with the coaches.
“I think that goes a long way. They all feel supported and they all work really hard to push each other. I think it's really helped them come so far in such a short amount of time.”
In a smaller town with not a lot of resources for gymnastics, it really is quite impressive that a group of girls have climbed to level six competition — working on seven — in year five for Ultimate Gymnastics.
“It's very hard and it takes a lot of endurance,” 15-year-old Tori Macon said. “We're just working our hardest at our routines to try to perfect them as much as possible.”
McQueen said she has to thank her coaches, all of which are USA Gymnastics certified, for the progress she's made.
“[The coaches] are amazing,” McQueen said. “They push you to try your hardest.”
All of the training, the long hours at practice and those gentle, but firm “pushes” from the coaches could lead to bigger and better things for some.
At the end of high school an opportunity to continue their craft may present itself.
“College is a real possibility,” Kania said. “And a lot of them have aspirations to do gymnastics in college.”