When did you get involved with gymnastics?
I started in Gymboree. My mom brought me to gym class and then I just kind of got funneled through to team.
Were you inspired by a favorite gymnast?
I was always inspired by the beautiful Russian and Ukrainian gymnasts. And then we had Shannon Miller and Dominique Dawes. I just loved gymnastics back then, and the routines and poise those girls had.
Were you a competitive gymnast?
Yes, I was. I remember traveling to the different meets. I think my first meet was when I was around seven years old. I grew up in Orange County, California and attended the Academy of Olympic Gymnastics, which is now known as Olympica Gymnastics. I started working there right out of high school and got to see some girls really flourish in that club.
Do you have a favorite event?
Vault is the first event that comes to my mind, but really I love all the events.
At what point did you start participating in Cheer?
My older sister recruited me onto our high school cheer team. It’s funny, I was just talking to my mom about what a hard decision it was to leave gymnastics and go into cheerleading. It was a decision my parents allowed me to make and it took months of crying. Sometimes the right decisions are not the easiest to make. I loved cheer all the same. I taught cheer camps and was a part of an all girls all-star team. Interestingly enough, my one goal as a young gymnast was to continue with gymnastics until I could drive myself there. I didn’t reach that goal. I left because I didn’t think I saw myself getting a college scholarship. I didn’t talk to anyone about it and I guess that’s what happens when you’re younger, or maybe not, I just made my own decision and thought if I wasn’t going to get a college scholarship, then I would like to have a high school life. Not that you can’t have a high school life when you’re in gymnastics, it’s just different. You have a full time job in school and a full time job at the gym. Other sports are not like that. When I joined cheerleading, I was put on the varsity team as a freshman with juniors and seniors at that point, and it was a great learning experience for me. But when my older friends graduated, I was ready to graduate as well. It was hard because I didn’t bond with the younger kids. However, I continued with cheerleading through my senior year. I would say those last two years I got a little lost in the weeds out there. Luckily someone pulled me and made me into a beautiful flower!
Do you think being involved with gymnastics impacted your personal development? What were the greatest benefits it gave you?
Being involved with gymnastics at a very young age taught me discipline, sportsmanship, and a hard work ethic when things didn’t come easy for me. It also taught me how to be tough and not cry over spilt milk. And my parents still had me do household chores. I was gone a lot because I was in the gym, but they still wanted me to have my responsibilities in the household. I got the love of pushing myself from gymnastics. I love to work out and to sweat. I also love to see the results of hard work. It pays off most of the time. Of course, you can over do it. But I also learned how to balance the important things in my life. God, family, work, and friends, that’s how my hierarchy goes. You have to prioritize your life. If your priorities are out of whack, you’ll get a little frayed and in the weeds. So you’ve got to stay sharp, astute, and disciplined. Gymnastics taught me those things too.
When and how did you begin your coaching career?
Right after high school I taught cheer camps in the summer time. At my home gym they really had a fantastic, healthy program with great gymnastics coaches. I would just hang out there off the clock. I spent hundreds of hours just sitting there watching, supporting, and asking questions.
What gymnastics levels have you coached throughout the years?
I have consistently coached the developmental kids through level six. Sometimes I would substitute for higher levels.
What do you love the most about coaching?
Seeing children get stronger, more confident, and grow. You know, you see kids who are afraid to do a forward roll, then a couple of years later they’re flipping. It’s a sport where you get to see kids grow for so many years. You stay with families for a long time. It’s not a barbaric sport. You’re not pushing people down or running into them. It’s a beautiful, artistic, hard sport. You have to be physical, glamorous, and beautiful. What a balance that is! You have to be like a horse.
When did you decide you wanted to be a gym owner?
I’ve had a variety of jobs. I worked at J C Penney. I taught classes and worked in the pro shop at Bali Total Fitness. And I worked at the Cheesecake Factory. But what made the most sense, what made me happy was gymnastics. It was something I always thought about. Drills would just come into my head. When I was in sales, right out of college, I was working in a call center in Arizona, which I loved. I had the best boss, the best mentor. He asked me how I wanted to be remembered at the end of my life. I didn’t know at that point. I just put my thirty-second elevator pitch on life together, which always evolves and I moved back to Sonoma with the same company, in outside sales, doing a lot of driving around for my work. I love renewable energy. Sustainability is a passion of mine, and driving around didn’t seem very sustainable to me. I was walking down the street in Sonoma one day, and I walked past this building that was being sold and I thought it would be a perfect location for a gym, which Sonoma didn’t have. It would have been perfect for the kids and parents of Sonoma. But that got me thinking, ‘why don’t I open a gym’? That never crossed my mind before. On the contrary, when I was twenty years old, I remember telling the thirty year old coaches I worked with, smugly, that I wouldn’t be coaching when I was thirty!
How did you make Sonoma Gymnastics Academy happen?
I’m still doing it! I did it just like I pushed through on any skill, with perseverance, determination, and smarts. Everyone says that your mind is the most powerful place in your body and if you don’t stay strong and healthy there, then you’re not going to be good for anyone else. I also did it through funding. I got donations from my parents, my God parents, my cousin. People saw what I was doing and said ‘you’re doing the right thing’. I couldn’t have done it without them, and my partner in life, Frank. This whole time he’s supported me. His family has done so much too, his brother, Nick, and his mom and dad. My equipment dealer has been important too. I have such a good relationship with them. I couldn’t have done it without my mentors in the gymnastics industry. Without following them and reading about what they do best. Opening a gymnastics club isn’t a new concept. I’m not building something that’s abnormal here. I’m just trying to plug and play and do Sonoma, and make it a healthy, clean, and fun environment for the kids to enjoy coming to. I want to make them want to work hard and teach them that working hard is fun.
When a parent is considering enrolling their child in a gymnastics class, how do you advise them?
Well, first I ask the child’s age and if they’ve done gymnastics before. Then I suggest that they bring their child in to do a trial class, and then we can put them in an appropriate class. If the parent or child isn’t sure about it, I recommend that they come in and see the facility. I tell them to come in, check it out, and meet the instructors. When they come in I tell them about our philosophy and show them how we’re running our classes. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the kids will want to start that very day.
What are the most important things you want your students to experience and learn at your gym?
I want to teach them how to fall down and get back up, how to be a good sport, as well as a good team member, and how to be a good individual athlete and sportsman. I would like to give them more strength and teach them about determination and will power. I want them to look in the mirror and feel good about themselves. The kids that come through these doors are the next generation. They could be the next president, congressman, or senator. They’re our next water testers, our next engineers and scientists. You want them to be well educated, strong, and smart. You want to give them a foundation to look back on or come back to. That’s what we’re building here.
What programs do you offer at Sonoma Gymnastics Academy?
In the Junior Academy, we offer classes for children ages 1-5
In the Academy Program we offer classes for boys (Level 1) and girls (Level 1-4) ages 6 and up.
Music and Movement Class –It’s a combination of gymnastics and martial arts.
Tumbles and Twirls – A tumbling and dance class.
We also offer Open gym, Birthday Parties, Summer Camps, Parent’s Night Out, and Friday Night Lights.
In addition to all of these programs, we are starting an excel team so we will have a competitive team for the 2017 season. It’s going to be fun to watch that grow.
What vision and or goals do you have for Sonoma Gymnastics Academy?
My goal is to make it a sustainable and profitable enterprise that expands into its own building on its own piece of land with a pool. It might just happen, who knows?
Thank you, Mary, for sharing your time with us! We wish you and Sonoma Gymnastics Academy all the best in the fun adventures that lie ahead!
Sonoma Gymnastics Academy, it is located at 1620 Carneros Meadows Lane, #108, Sonoma, 95476. For class schedules and more information, please visit Mary at http://www.sonomagymnasticsacademy.com/ or call her at (707) 343-1402.