Liz came to us from another gym when she was 12 years old. She had competed gymnastics as an Xcel gymnast, but her old gym also had a Junior Olympic (J.O.) track that Liz wanted to try. She really wanted to be an optional-level gymnast and compete at a higher level.

Her gym said “no.”

You see, despite Liz’s drive and determination to reach her goal, her old gym told her that she was too old to pursue it. (Remember? She was 12 when she came to us, meaning that she was “too old” according to them, even before that.)

There is no rule in USA Gymnastics (USAG) stating that a gymnast may not compete a certain level because she is too old. This is a made-up and arbitrary rule imposed by gyms, and spread across the gymnastics community for gymnasts and their parents to think that it is true.

Liz and her parents contacted our gym, and we did a one-on-one evaluation. I asked Liz what her goal was, and she said it was to compete in the optional levels. She was strong and had a lively personality. I was honest with them and told them that there was no such age rule keeping her out of competing J.O. (They were astounded.) I also said that although Liz had some bad habits that we would need to fix, she had great potential, and I was confident that she would be ready to compete J.O. Level 4 the upcoming fall. (This was back when our gym still competed USAG.)

Her age was never a consideration of mine.

Liz is now 18 and finishing up high school. She has spent the last six years with us working towards her goals. She is one of the leaders in our gym. She is competing USAIGC Gold, which is the equivalent to Level 8 in USAG. She is a part of our Apprenticeship program that grooms gymnasts into coaches so they have a marketable skill and are ready to hire out of high school.

Liz was not too old to become a valuable part of our program, nor was she too old to work to pursue her goals. Where she was able to get was due to her hard work and dedication to achieving her goals; we simply gave her an opportunity. What she learned from us is that her goals mattered, and as a result, she mattered.

This is what an “Individual First” philosophy does, one gymnast at a time.

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