No small commitment
For gymnasts, competing is a way of life.It requires dedication, physical challenges, overcoming injuries and a huge time commitment.It also manifests a passion so powerful, it can consume someone’s existence. In the case of Heidi Koch, part owner and KidzPlex Glenwood Gymnastics team head coach, her love for the sport overruled her desire to practice law.Visualizing the parallel bars while she was studying for the bar exam, Koch, who competed as a gymnast from age 11 to 18, decided to assist Rob Jones as a coach at the Glenwood Gymnastics Academy in 1999. After passing the bar, Koch secured a job with the District Attorney’s Office in Eagle, but soon realized she liked instructing young gymnasts much more than prosecuting criminals.”The most pleasant part of my day was the coaching part,” Koch said. “So I would work all day at the office and be in court and I decided that this is what I enjoy the most.”When the opportunity arose to start KidzPlex in Glenwood, Koch ended her law career to focus solely on gymnastics. It wasn’t the first time Koch rearranged her life for the sport.
Growing up, Koch, who was born and raised in Eagle, traveled to Vail to practice gymnastics. Then the program went under and Koch was left without a gym to train in.”Not doing gymnastics was not an option. So I either could have moved to Denver to train or I could have moved to Grand Junction,” Koch said. “It never occurred to me to stay there.”So, Koch moved to Grand Junction and trained under the guidance of Brian Bensley, who not only took her in as a gymnast, but accepted her into his family. Bensley’s parents took over legal guardianship over Koch, so she could live in Grand Junction, attend Fruita Monument High School for her senior year and still compete.”It was worth it. It was great,” said Koch, who suffered a torn rotator cuff and stress fractures that season. “It wasn’t my best season, but I would do it again in a heartbeat.”Now Koch runs KidzPlex with Bensley as her business partner. Bensley only coaches in Grand Junction, but Koch implements his program in Glenwood.”For me to put in a 12-hour day is not uncommon, but I put in 10-12 hours a day at a law firm and I hated it,” Koch said. “In my opinion it is not the hours you put in, it’s whether or not you enjoy what you do, and I enjoy what I do.”Since opening KidzPlex in December, Koch has manifested a solid competitive gymnastics team, outside of the 135 recreation gymnasts she instructs who compete in the Elementary Artistic Gymnastics League and Education System (EAGLES) with meets all over Colorado.
The life of a gymnastTo be a competitive gymnast at KidzPlex, dedication is mandatory.Athletes train three days a week for three hours each day all year long. During the summer, the day starts at 7 a.m. for morning sessions where they work on floor routines, bars, vault and beam. The gymnasts also condition and do strength training through gymnastics activities, along with a significant amount of pull-ups and sit-ups.It’s not easy.Koch’s youngest competitive gymnast is 10-year-old Kristin Mason and her oldest is 18-year-old Kristin Guse, who recently earned a spot on the University of Northern Colorado’s cheerleading squad starting this fall. While most gymnasts only train at KidzPlex in Glenwood, some of them combine that with training in Grand Junction or meets for USA Gymnastics – a higher, more competitive league than EAGLES. “To be a competitive USA Gymnast or pursue it attempting to get a college scholarship, they are looking at five days a week three to four hours a day for four or five years – and that is once they reach the team level,” Koch said. “Any time they are at that level, they have already been in the sport from four to five, maybe five to six years. That’s when the commitment needs to step up.”
Eleven-year-old Gracie Piccinati has been a gymnast for three years. Her commitment to the sport is undeniable. “I go to Junction on Monday, here (Glenwood) on Tuesday, Wednesday I’m here for a private lesson and then I go to Junction for dance and conditioning. Then on Thursday I go to Junction and then here,” Piccinati said of her hectic weekly schedule.Taryn Pearce , 13, became a gymnast when she was 6 and competed while she lived in Denver. Even at her young age, she trained 25 hours a week before moving to Glenwood six years ago. Pearce took five years off, returning to the sport in December to compete for KidzPlex at a level she is comfortable with.”It’s good to compete again,” Pearce said. “I missed it.” To compete at a high level, commitment and focus to the sport is everything and often removes other sports from the picture.”If they do gymnastics at the upper levels it is also very difficult for them to compete in another sport at the same time,” Koch said. “Their bodies are so tired, they are so exhausted from what they do here, that to add another couple hours a week of more activity will usually result in some sort of chronic injury.”
No easy ride for gymnasts’ parentsImagine driving the 90-mile trip to Grand Junction a few times a week; then more road trips almost every Saturday to Grand Junction or the Front Range for competitions. And imagine three times a week not having the kids around for family dinner.Welcome to gymnastics.”Our life is kind of built around practices and meets – the same way as soccer parents and other things,” said Nancy Vidal, Glenwood gymnast Sophia Vidal’s mother. “But the commitment is year-round. It’s nine hours a week and there is never a time when you are not doing that. It’s different than a seasonal sport, it really is a full-time commitment.”It might be a demanding routine, but doesn’t seem to be too much of a pain in the neck for parents. Just ask Glenwood gymnast Hope Whitman’s mother Bonnie Whitman, who had a vertebrae infused in her neck on June 21. Her first trip out of the house after surgery was to see Hope practice on June 27. She traveled to Colorado Springs for the July 1 state meet in a neck brace and arm sling.”I would do anything as long as they have the passion. We just rearrange our schedule and work it all out. It is a great time as parents because we’ve enjoyed it so much – just watching them play and being out there. I love it.”No matter how much the gymnastics commitment demands from gymnasts, their parents and their coaches, handle it with the same grace and poise they demonstrate in competitions – giving everything they’ve got and consistently striving for perfection. “My thought is, as long as they want to do this and it’s important and they love it,” Whitman said. “The coolest thing is the camaraderie with these girls. It is so phenomenal, that’s a lesson in life right there. They support each other and you can’t beat that.”
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