Don’t let the smiles and giggles fool you. They are focused. They are determined. They are gymnasts. And they are loving it!
Vicki Walker, who has been teaching gymnastics through the Cheraw Recreation and Leisure Services for 19 years, is still enthusiastic about her young athletes. Not only did Walker grow up in a gymnastics class herself, she grew up traveling and watching her mother compete.
In fact, Walker and her mother continue to spend time together in the midst of gymnasts. Nearly every weekend during the competitive season, generally January through March, Walker and her mother travel to various meets in the Carolinas to judge competitions. “We’ve always loved it,” said Walker.
After nearly two decades, Walker has also watched Cheraw’s gymnastics program grow. Walker said she remembers that first year, and the excitement of having 70 students learning a sport that was basically “brand new” to this area. Today, enrollment stands at 250.
The young people in the program, ages 4 to 18, don’t have to compete. It is, after all, simply a lot of fun and great exercise for many. But for those who are bitten by the thrill of the bar or the balance beam, there’s a continuous learning curve they seem to embrace.
To watch them practice, is to watch them grow stronger physically, emotionally and mentally. Melissa Maquire said her daughter, Katie, has been involved in the program here for five years. “It has absolutely helped build her confidence,” said Maquire.
It’s a sport that requires tremendous strength and endurance. It’s also a team sport, and that is a big draw for many of these young girls.
“Everybody is so friendly and everything is worth learning,” said Hailey Nobel, currently in her third year with the program. “Everybody works hard and takes it seriously, which helps with competition.”
About this time last year, the gymnastics program moved from the Cheraw Community Center to the town’s new facility on Powe Street, now known as the Cheraw Complex. Plans to renovate the building are still underway. But it is the hope of those in the gymnastics program, that one day soon, Cheraw will be able to host a regional or statewide gymnastics competition that will generate money for the local economy.
Amy Kulo, who’s daughter has been in the program for several years, said that when you attend competitions, you pay. “Everybody pays to walk in the door, even parents,” she said. Tickets generally run $8 to $10. “But most families, especially if they have more than one child competing, will stay overnight, eat out and generally spend money in that town.”
Kulo said she is glad many of the town’s leaders “realize the value, aside from the girls, this program can potentially bring to the community.”
Approximately 60 girls in the program actually compete on either the Junior or the Senior team. Age has nothing to do with one’s ability to land a spot on one of these teams, said Kulo. “Miss Vickie makes sure it’s all about the skills.”
In last year’s competition, Cheraw brought home first place trophies. And come Valentines’ weekend, they’re hoping to do it again. “The rules have changed a little this year, so we’ll see,” said Walker. “But I’m very hopeful.”
Walker does a lot to generate interest in the program, yet realizes the financial strain competitions and leotards can cause young families. To help, she offers payment plans for parents so the expenses of leotards and competition are not overwhelming.
Something new she’s now offering are gymnastics birthday parties. For $125, and up to 10 children, parents can throw a party where the birthday child and guests get to learn and enjoy gymnastics for two hours.
If you would like more information about the gymnastics program, call 843-537-8420.
— Staff Writer Karen Kissiah can be reached by calling 843-537-5261, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.