At the tender age of 18, Amber Myers opened her gym, Cal Star Gymnastics, in Novato, California. As well as being a mother of two children, Amber has provided a safe and happy place for hundreds of children for 20 years. I invite you to get to know this fabulous woman and read about her passion for gymnastics, her personal gymnastics story, and how her vision for Cal Star has evolved over the years.
When and how did you get started in gymnastics?
When I was seven years old, my mom enrolled me in gymnastics because I was always doing headstands and timing myself. I got up to holding it for five minutes, which probably wasn’t the best thing to be doing, but I was super excited about that! I’m originally from Georgia so we didn’t have a real gymnastics program in our small town. I started in a simple tumbling class there. But when we moved to California, she enrolled me in a gymnastics club in Marin County.
When did you begin competing and for how long?
My mom was a single parent, so keeping me enrolled consistently in classes was very hard on her. I’d do pre-team for a while, then have to stop and take a break, then start up again when she could manage it. That happened several times. Eventually, the coaches asked me to be on the team because they saw how much I wanted to do it and they noticed that my work ethic was very good. I wasn’t naturally talented like most of the other girls. I had a lot of upper body strength, but I wasn’t graceful or flexible. I think the coaches thought I’d be a good role model for my teammates and inspire them to work harder at their skills and conditioning. I joined the beginning level team about three or four times between the ages of ten and thirteen. The last gym I was at actually ended up offering me a scholarship because the owner of the gym recognized how much I loved gymnastics and wanted me to continue doing it.
When did you start your coaching career?
I was one of the older girls on the team so the coaches started introducing me to coaching and I fell in love with it instantly. I think all along I was a coach right from the beginning. I went from coaching a few classes within a few months to coaching a gymnastics team. I think the gym was short on coaches so they needed to start training their own. That gym eventually closed, so I started coaching at other Marin County gyms. I told the owners I didn’t need to make a lot of money, I really just wanted to learn how to be a better coach.
Did you always dream of opening a gym?
Yes, deep down I think I always wanted to own a gym. When I started taking classes in Marin, I immediately started up my own ‘gymnastics classes’ in my backyard, or at the school playground with my friends. I taught back walkovers, and even back handsprings to them when I was only nine or ten years old! My whole backyard was transformed into a gym that I built. We dragged mattresses out there and created a tumbling strip. We even made a springboard with a rubber tire and a piece of wood tied to it! So, yes, I was always a natural teacher and director. I even dabbled in directing my friends in musical plays. By the time I was sixteen or seventeen, I knew I wanted to own my own gym.
How, and at what point did you decide to become a gym owner?
While my mom and I were living in an apartment building, I used my own money from my coaching jobs to purchase a handful of mats and talked the building manager into letting me use the small pool room to teach gymnastics to the other kids in the apartment building. I taught two classes twice a week there. Then I heard about a gym in the area that was going out of business and was selling all of their equipment. When my mom saw how determined I was, she gave me the money to buy much more equipment and with that I started Cal Star when I was eighteen. My first space was tiny, only 1500 square feet. I had a set of bars, one balance beam, a twenty foot tumble track, and a tumbling strip, which was only thirty five feet long. Eventually, I relocated to a larger space, which was 2500 square feet. Then over time, we expanded to our current 5500 square foot space.
What were your goals when you opened Cal Star? How have those goals evolved over the years?
At first, I wanted to take kids to the Olympics! I idolized Bela Karolyi. I studied him for years by watching videos to see what he was doing. I wanted to be just like him. Then I had my first child and things started to change. My daughter wasn’t a natural gymnast but I could see the benefits gymnastics was giving her. By then I had attended multiple clinics at Congress and learned many things from the clinicians that went so much further than just teaching your gymnast how to do a Yurchenko vault. They were teaching us about what we were really doing for kids. I got into that and started moving a little bit away from the competitive focus and more on preschool and recreational classes. Then Jan Bischak, one of my compulsory coaches, came into my life. She enlightened me about working with kids who have learning disabilities and different learning pathways. If it wasn’t for her, I don’t think I would have learned about them. Many of these kids were having a very hard time in school because they found it hard to sit still and they were often getting in trouble. Jan understood how to work with these kids. She started teaching me and my more patient and tolerant coaches about how to work with them by using different types of tools that could help them to focus and learn more successfully. She helped us make the gym a safe place for them to hang out. Teaching us about how to help these kids is Jan’s true gift. It’s been a very eye opening experience for me.
What are the greatest benefits gymnastics has given you?
As I said, my mom was a single parent so she was always at work. I was a latch key kid. I was more independent than most kids were and was making decisions for myself with nobody watching over me a lot of the time, so I’d sometimes stray off in a kind of bad direction. But then I remembered how much I loved gymnastics and it would always bring me back into focus. I feel in many ways it’s saved my life by always giving me a positive thing to focus on and keeping me on a good path. I think a lot of my students feel like gymnastics does that for them, too.
Do you feel gymnastics benefited your own children?
My children grew up in the gym and both competed at Level 4. At that point they decided not to continue competitively but that was fine. They both found other things they loved to do. Bailey did ice skating, dance, and cheerleading. She’s currently on her cheer team at school and is a star tumbler. She loves it. She still comes into the gym and works on things on her own, although we sometimes give her coaching tips and drills to help her. Jessie likes the parkour side of gymnastics. He still loves to play around in the gym. He comes in and makes obstacle courses for himself and has a lot of fun with that. All in all, I think they both benefited from the sport. And as a parent, I took the tools I was learning from all the clinics I attended and applied it to my parenting skills. I feel it helped me be a better coach and a better mom, too.
What are the things you love the most about your work?
I love working with kids all day. I get to dress comfortably and walk around barefoot. I get to see kids smile when they walk into the gym because they love being here. Through the years, I’ve also seen some of my students struggle with some serious home life issues. But here at the gym they have their safe and happy place. I feel great about providing that for them. I learn so much from these kids by watching them find their own way and learn and grow while they’re dealing with some really difficult life situations.
How many students do you have and what classes does Cal Star offer?
We have about 100 recreational students and 30 team kids.
Our classes include a mommy and me type of class that we call Diaper Daredevils (children 18 months and younger can come for free), as well as Preschool and Recreational Boys and Girls, and Team Boys and Girls classes. We also have an All Star Cheer class, which has been a great place for our competitive gymnasts who didn’t want to compete anymore but still wanted to tumble and be in the gym. And we have a highly popular Birthday Party program which books up months in advance, as well as our Open Gym class for current students who can come and work independently on their skills. And then we have our Power Play classes. These classes fill a need for the kids who aren’t ready for a structured class. The younger kids who are more shy or intimidated by walking into a big gym space have a chance to explore and get familiar with the gym and the equipment at their own pace. It’s open to students and non-students. We hold them on weekday mornings for children ages 2-4, as well as on Saturday evenings for older kids.
Thank you, Amber, for sharing your gymnastics story with us! Thank you for all your years of passion and dedication, and continuing to offer such a valuable experience for the children in your community. They’re lucky to have you!