Olympics boost interest in gymnastics and have young girls dreaming about 2016
by Kimeko McCoy and Kim Isaza
August 03, 2012 01:54 AM | 7383 views | 2 2 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Megan Skaggs, 13, is a junior international elite gymnast who trains 30 hours a week and has her sights set on the 2016 Olympic Games.<br>Staff/Laura Moon
Megan Skaggs, 13, is a junior international elite gymnast who trains 30 hours a week and has her sights set on the 2016 Olympic Games.
Staff/Laura Moon
MARIETTA — When the U.S. women’s gymnastics team wins Olympic gold, as it did this week and in 1996, telephones stay busy at local gyms, with new families wanting lessons.

Jon Aardema owns the Gymnastics Academy of Atlanta on North Cobb Parkway in Kennesaw and says his enrollment can grow 10 percent around Olympic times.

“Every little girl that wants to be a gymnast, this is their big chance to be inspired,” he said.

Megan Skaggs, 13, is a junior international elite gymnast and trains 30 hours a week at Aardema’s gym. Megan, who lives in Marietta and is home-schooled, began gymnastics when she was 4 and has been training with Coach Irina Podgornaya since she was 8. Her sights are set on the 2016 Olympic Games.

For gymnasts at an elite level, families can spend up to $20,000 a year on training, competition travel and other expenses, Aardema said.

Tina Skaggs, Megan’s mother, said, “There’s a cost associated with it, and you just try to make sure you stay focused.”

Amy Ballow’s daughter, Mary Katherine, is a rising junior on the Lassiter High School gymnastics team. While Mary Katherine, 16, is committed to her sport, she doesn’t expect to continue past high school, her mother said.

Still, the teen spends as many as 20 hours each week, every week of the year, training at North Metro Gymnastics Center in Woodstock.

“She does it for the pure joy,”

Ballow said. “It’s her thing, and she loves it.”

Mary Katherine started doing gymnastics at age 7.

“She was a latecomer,” Ballow said.

The financial cost, she said, is relative. Monthly training fees are about $250, in addition to USA Gymnastics meet fees and travel expenses.

“It’s pretty big, but I have friends who are equestrians, so it’s not as bad as that,” Ballow said.

There’s also a physical cost, she said.

“The wear and tear on the body is pretty intense,” Ballow said. “While (Mary Katherine) loves it, I think she realizes it is hard on her body.”

For her as a parent, the physical cost comes in the form of anxiety.

“It’s unnerving to sit in the stands and watch her do back handsprings on the beam,” Ballow said.

Jane Martin, Lassiter’s gymnastics coach, loves watching the U.S. Olympic gymnasts — and her team does, too, she said.

Although in Georgia’s high school competition, gymnastics is a spring sport, the commitment is year-round for Lassiter’s girls, she said. Walton, Pope and Kell high schools also have gymnastics teams.

“Those young ladies in the Olympics are so talented, and you can tell the time they put into their sport,” Martin said. “It’s so fascinating to watch.”

Aardema, of the Gymnastics Academy of Atlanta, said watching the Olympians compete “greatly inspires our athletes.”

“It gives them high-visibility gymnasts to look up to,” he said.
Comments-icon Post a Comment
GAA mom
August 06, 2012
GAA does have a strict team program with high expectations for their gymnasts, but they get the results they are after. My daughter has been there for years, loves her coaches, and has come a long way socially under their wing. Each program is different, and you have to decide what will work best for your child. GAA is a great fit for mine.
Cal Friedman
August 04, 2012
GAA coaches burn out their most talented gymnasts at an early age. Go elsewhere if you want your daughter to have a positive experience with coaches who actually care about your daughter and can inspire self confidence.
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