Olympic inspiration: Gymnastics center says enrollment goes up when U.S. wins gold
by Kimeko McCoy and Kim Isaza
August 03, 2012 12:37 AM | 3230 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Megan Skaggs, 13, of Marietta, works with her coach, Irina Podgornaya, as she practices at the Gymnastics Academy of Atlanta in Kennesaw. Podgornaya has been Skaggs’ coach for the past five years.<br>Cherokee Tribune/Laura Moon
Megan Skaggs, 13, of Marietta, works with her coach, Irina Podgornaya, as she practices at the Gymnastics Academy of Atlanta in Kennesaw. Podgornaya has been Skaggs’ coach for the past five years.
Cherokee Tribune/Laura Moon
MARIETTA — When the U.S. women’s gymnastics team wins Olympic gold, as it did this week and back in 1996, telephones heat up 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 the Olympic Games.

“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 late comer,” 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.
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