With the Olympics just a week away, Middle Tennessee gymnastics coaches are bracing themselves for the influx of interest that comes around this time every four years. And with the opening of a new gymnastics training center on Charlotte Pike, even more children will have an opportunity to learn the sport.
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Coach and owner Justine Bobinger is no stranger to competitive gymnastics; she began training when she was 10 years old, then went on to compete at the collegiate level before opening her own gym in Brentwood in 1988. After a stint in the business world, and four years coaching girls’ gymnastics in Belle Meade, Bobinger made a decision this year to start an advanced gymnastics training facility in the heart of Nashville with her business partner and fellow coach, Stephanie Davis.
In June, they found a building on Charlotte Pike, and in one short month, the Nashville Gymnastics Training Center, or Nashville GTC, was ready for students.
“It was important to us to open our training center in Nashville because there wasn’t one in this area,” Bobinger said. “Now we serve Sylvan Park, Cherokee Park, Historic Edgefield, Hillsboro Village, Belmont, Bellevue, West End as well as East Nashville, and the response from families has been overwhelming.”
Davis, Bobinger’s coaching partner, has also been a lifelong gymnastics enthusiast. Davis began gymnastics in Nashville when she was 8 years old. When she turned 18, she started coaching, and to this day, she says, she hasn’t lost her passion for gymnastics. A former Titans cheerleader and current mother and fifth-grade teacher, Davis still found the drive to be a part of this new venture.
In women’s gymnastics, athletes first participate in compulsory competitions, where all gymnasts perform the same choreographed routine on all four apparatuses: floor, bars, beam, and vault. Depending on skill, gymnasts can advance to more challenging levels. Once a gymnast reaches level seven, the routines become optional, which means they are choreographed individually, and each routine is unique. Level 10 is the highest achievement for a gymnast before reaching elite status needed to qualify for Olympic trials.
According to Ashley Perry, Belle Meade’s West Side Athletic Club gymnastics coordinator, there are only seven advanced training facilities across Middle Tennessee that provide training for competitive gymnastics. That number is low, Perry says, because at the competitive level, practice is year-round and requires significant time and financial commitments — sometimes 20 hours a week, and at least $200 a month. But 2012 is a special year.
“With the Olympics coming up, it seems like every kid wants to do gymnastics, simply after seeing it on TV,” Perry said. “We’ve already increased our program by over 300 kids, just in the last year, and we have 32 gymnasts on our competitive team. So hopefully the desire to participate in gymnastics is on the rise in Tennessee.”
At Nashville GTC, both Bobinger and Davis are certified by the United States Gymnastics Association and have taken extensive hours of training for safety and coaching technique — and that’s just a small part of a successful track record. Just this year, two Nashville GTC level 8 gymnasts competed in a regional competition, with gymnasts from across the Southeast. Lila Dyer, 12, made a splash at the regional competition when she scored 9.55 on the floor. And Kennedy Murphy, 14, a member of the state team, placed second in Tennessee and fourth in the region overall.
“What’s unique about our facility,” Bobinger said, “is that we are an advanced training facility. Our goal is to get those kids to level 9 and 10 as fast as we can.”
Bobinger and Davis also look forward to being a positive addition to the Charlotte Avenue corridor — an area that is poised for development. Svetlana Stepanovic, Sylvan Heights longtime resident and neighborhood association president, agrees that the addition of a gymnastics facility is great news.
“To have an affordable sport center for kids is a brilliant idea for everyone,” Stepanovic said. “This is exactly in line with what we imagine — a dynamic neighborhood that allows us and our children to live full lives without spending hours fighting traffic and distance. Cities can be just as kid-friendly as suburbs.”
Business owners agree that the addition is positive for the overall trajectory of Charlotte Avenue. For instance, Fabu interior design and gift boutique owner Sarah Boyce smiles at the thought of a place for children to learn a new sport. “This gymnastics facility is a very exciting thing,” Boyce said.
“This neighborhood is getting ready to boom, and it helps us all when a new business goes in. We have other sports facilities like Climb Nashville and the Nashville Ballet, so we have lots of opportunities for children and teenagers to have their extracurricular activities in our neighborhood.”
As Bobinger and Davis open the doors to Nashville GTC and begin classes this month, children and the neighborhood are at the forefront of their minds. To them, coaching gymnastics is all about caring for children.
“We want to make this a great place for kids to grow up,” Davis said. “I grew up in a gym, and still to this day, my teammates are my family and my closest friends. We want to develop relationships like that, and help kids to build confidence.”