Tanya Ingram, owner of KidGym, took four of her gymnasts to a regional championship, hosted by First City Gymnastics in Pensacola, Fla., which was followed by a three-hour clinic taught by Olympian Lu Li and Olympic trials coach Davis Adlard.
Ingram said the experience was truly once in a lifetime.
“Everybody that competed at the meet had the opportunity to stay for the clinic as well,” Ingram said. “This meet was unique because usually the meets aren’t followed by a clinic where you get to meet a former Olympian, so it was kind of special for them to be able to do that.”
Lu made the Chinese national gymnastics team in 1991 and competed in Barcelona in the 1992 Summer Olympics.
She won her gold medal on the uneven bars, earning a perfect 10.0 score.
Lu also won a silver medal for her routine on the balance beam. She tied with American Shannon Miller with a score of 9.912.
Ingram said even though Lu’s resume is impressive, her age and communication skills made the girls feel at ease.
“It wasn’t like they were being coached by a peer,” Ingram said. “She was more of a mentor and she was just easy for them to communicate with. She broke it down to the basics, and she didn’t talk over them. She got down on their level whether they were a Level 2 or a Level 7.”
Ingram said that, since this was one of the last meets of the year, KidGym only took four girls to the meet. KidGym normally has 25 members on its gymnastics team.
Saylor White, a Level 2 gymnast, finished first in the All-Around competition while fellow KidGym participant, Aaliyah Boone, finished second in the Level 2 All-Around.
Caitlyn Layfield, Level 3, finished first in the All-Around, and Madison Hughes also won her All-Around at Level 4.
The girls competed against other gymnasts who had practiced for the same amount of time each week and are in their same age group.
Ingram said she was able to assist in training as well as gather tips from Olympic coaches and felt the trip was just as much a learning experience for her as it was the girls.
“For me, personally, it was a unique opportunity because the coaches that were there were pretty much saying the same thing that I tell the girls at practice,” Ingram said. “It was neat because they might be saying it in a different way, and for those girls maybe the way that coach or that former Olympian said something could have just clicked for them. It was a great opportunity for me to kind of reinforce my coaching techniques and methods.”
The gym owner and former competitor said it was good for the girls to hear someone who has excelled in the sport talk about fundamentals.
“For the girls, they got to hear an Olympian tell them how important it is for them to do something as simple as point their toes,” Ingram said. “You have to train your body just as much for a simple skill like that as you do for a higher-level skill. It’s different when it comes from that person who won a gold on bars.”
Ingram competed in gymnastics as a child and helped coach while she was in college. She actually purchased the gym from a couple of her former coaches.
“When I got out of college it just kind of worked itself out that my former coaches were ready to retire and move on to other things, and I was at a point where I was considering doing that,” Ingram said. “I taught school for years, but that’s just always been a love of mine. It really did happen almost by chance.”
KidGym, which has locations in Talladega and Sylacauga, trains Level 2 through Modified Optional gymnasts.
The girls practice anywhere from 2.5-5 hours a week to prepare for competition season and this season KidGym had several gymnasts become AAU state champions.
“We train by levels and we have recreation classes for the younger kids,” Ingram said. “From those recreation classes each year, we bump up the ones that are interested and have the skill level to pre-teen level and then they go on to teen level. Really, our ages range from 5-years-old to 16-years-old, but they can compete on any level no matter their age, as long as they have the skill.”
The gym also trains competition cheerleaders who represent the area in Level 2 competitions throughout the state.
Ingram said she feels lucky to be doing something for a living she is so passionate about.
“It doesn’t feel like a job, and that’s what I hope for my own children,” Ingram said. “One day they’ll grow up, and when they’re old enough to go to college and graduate college, I hope they feel the same way about what they do as the way I feel about what I do. It’s something that I look forward to and I get excited about every day.”
Ingram said she enjoy working with children because she gets to help with milestones in their training.
“I don’t coach gymnasts who are Olympic level; as a matter of fact, I’ve had several girls who have kind of graduated from my gym that I’ve had to send other places,” Ingram said. “It’s important to me for a child to experience success and to know what that feels like. To me, for them to learn a cartwheel is just as big as them learning a back tuck. Everything is a victory in progression for children.”
Ingram said she hopes the girls who went learned from the experience and she thinks they all came away better gymnasts.
“Even if they took one thing away from that clinic that made them a better gymnast or a better athlete in general, then it was worth the trip, and it was worth the cost of the meet,” Ingram said. “I think it’s something that they will remember for a long time and that left an impression on them.”