• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

Gymnastics academy teaching kids to focus in sport, life

PEYTON WHITAKER and her coach, Kathy Huster, were all smiles during a recent training session at Agility Gymnastics Academy in Versailles. (Photo by Bob Vlach)

Most of the students at Agility Gymnastics Academy will never compete at the highest levels of their sport like the Olympians on this year's U. S. Gymnastics team, but that doesn't mean they aren't learning some valuable lessons.

Competing in a sport where athletes are asked to maintain their balance on a four-inch beam and perform a series of movements while swinging on uneven bars can be scary. "You have to be very mentally focused and very mentally tough in order to be in gymnastics," said Michelle Grewe, a longtime gymnastics coach who owns Agility Gymnastics Academy in Versailles. Because of that focus, she said most of Agility's athletes are straight-A students - even those who spend 20 or more hours a week in the gym. Grewe and her coaches often tell parents that everyone learns at a different rate in gymnastics. Some kids learn skills very quickly, while others take longer. "But that's okay if they're enjoying the sport . and they're learning self-discipline," she said. And gymnastics is not a "girly" sport. "It takes an unbelievable amount of strength, an unbelievable amount of dedication and work to . do boys' gymnastics," said Grewe. One of her former gymnastic students won a strongman contest while competing against football players. "It's the greatest sport for young boys," explained Agility coach Jill Peck, "because . it teaches them discipline and self-control between their body and their minds." The former elementary school teacher wants more kids to love gymnastics, a sport she has loved her whole life. One of her former students, Kalyn Friddle, now a coach at Agility Gymnastics, loves being in the gym and helping students who share her passion for a sport that has been a part of her life since she was 4. "I love showing them the love of gymnastics," said Friddle, a 2007 graduate of Woodford County High School. Agility Gymnastics Academy offers classes to build skills and confidence in kids of all ages. Students up to age 6 learn basic gymnastic skills and how to fall without injury in a preschool program, before advancing to a developmental program. As they acquire specific gymnastic skills, students begin competing on teams. An in-house team allows Agility students to compete against each other and gain an understanding of what they need to do to earn a higher score. A travel team allows Agility's students to compete against gymnasts at similar skill levels, which are measured from 2 to 10. The most advanced students acquire big skills to compete on floor, balance beam, bars and vault, according to Grewe. She said they will train 25 hours a week during the summer and about 20 hours a week when they're in school. "Those kids," she adds, "are serious" about developing their skills to a point where they can compete at the collegiate gymnastics. Lori Gray says her 13-year-old daughter, Kaitlyn, would like to continue gymnastics in college, but more accurately wants "to do this as long as her body will allow her to." Kaitlyn has been doing gymnastics for more than eight years and will soon advance to skill level 9 - and her mom says she never complains about the 20 or more hours of training at Agility Gymnastics Academy each week. While not set up to offer an elite program for students who would like to compete at the national and international levels, Agility's move into a new facility would open the door to that possibility - depending on the desires and progress of its youngest gymnasts who are "doing very well," said Grewe. "So the future looks very bright for Agility Gymnastics because we have a lot of little, tiny kids that are already at a fairly high (skill) level considering that they're seven years old." Offering a Talent Opportunity Program for 7 to 10-year-olds at Agility Gymnastics would provide its youngest gymnasts with a start to advancing to the elite level of USA Gymnastics, Grewe said. She said the new facility will also provide a safer environment for learning the difficult skills necessary at the collegiate level. "It's all about repetitions being safe so their body's not taking a pounding," said Peck. For students who have no desire to compete at the highest levels of gymnastics, an Xcel program allows gymnasts to compete at a recreational level. Students in this program do not spend as many hours working on skill development as those competing for Agility's travel team, Grewe said. Tumbling classes for cheerleaders and parent-child classes for kids as young as 15 months old are two other programs. On a recent Thursday afternoon, Peyton Whitaker was getting individual instruction from Agility coach Kathy Huster as she works to improve her flexibility as a dancer. The gymnastic skills she's now learning will likely become a part of her dance routine. "And she's going to be a very good dancer," said Huster. Karen Dodd appreciates the personal attention given to her 12-year-old daughter, Lexie, as she works to sharpen her skills as a cheerleader. "We're able to . really focus on what she needs to focus on," said Dodd. The new, larger facility will allow Agility Gymnastics to begin offering classes for athletes who want to get stronger and faster, while becoming more agile and flexible in any sport. "So gymnastics is a very good feeder sport," said Grewe, who has owned and operated Agility Gymnastics Academy since November 2009. She had been coaching gymnastics a lot longer when her family purchased the Versailles business formerly known as Central Kentucky Gymnastics. Over the last seven years, the number of students at Agility Gymnastics Academy has climbed from around 100 to about 200. "It has a lot to do with my awesome staff," said Grewe of the growth. She said her coaches are dedicated and focused on nurturing "a very well-rounded individual." The national attention gymnastics has gotten during the summer Olympics will likely spur a few little girls to start classes at Agility Gymnastics Academy, but more importantly having a new facility at a more visible location on Frankfort Street should help, Grewe said. She hopes the move to the new location will happen by mid- to late-October.

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