When she opened the Gymnastics Center of Chattanooga, Wendy Roberts said, she knew almost nothing about the sport.
In high school, Roberts, 46, competed as an amateur giant slalom skier and later spent eight years as a professional cheerleader for the Philadelphia Eagles. When GCC opened its doors in October 2004, however, her knowledge of floor routines, tumbling and uneven bars was minimal.
"What I knew about gymnastics could fit in a thimble," Roberts said, laughing.
In the last six years, GCC has gone on to train hundreds of gymnasts, including many who have qualified for regional and national competitions. With about 550 children on her current roster, including about 70 on her competitive team, Roberts said her knowledge base has increased substantially.
Q: What do you get out of running the gym?
A: This is something you do because your heart is in it, not because you're expecting great financial rewards. The rewards [are] what we offer to the community. When we have little kids crying because they don't want to leave, you can't put a price on that. With our team program, it's the spirit of excellence. Our kids compete very well because they are happy ... to be there.
Q: What are your plans for the gym?
A: We're 12,500 square feet, [and] we're hoping to expand soon. With our numbers right now, we're starting to get crowded, which is a great problem to have. We're in the stages of developing the team and taking them further. We would love to have elite gymnastics. There are many gyms our size that have one or two elites. We'd like to get up there with the big dogs.
Q: What is the glue that holds the gym together?
A: Probably our coaches. You can have the most fabulous building with state-of-the-art equipment and talented athletes, but if you don't have a fabulous head coach and fabulous training, that's going to go out the window.
The other thing is where your heart is at. When we opened up, there were other gyms in Chattanooga, and it's like when you go to Orlando, Fla. You can go to Universal Studios and have a fabulous time, but if you want that something a little extra special, you go to Disney World. When we opened, I said, "We've got Universal Studios. Let's be Disney. Let's be that place where kids are happy."
Q: How did you end up with the Philadelphia Eagles?
A: Back when I tried out, there was the United States Football League - the short-lived summer league - and Philadelphia had a summer team. At that time, they'd already had tryouts, but the Philadelphia Eagles [were having] tryouts. I thought I would go ... and see what they were all about.
What started out as "Let's see how it goes" turned into me cheering for Philadelphia for eight years. I was co-captain my third year and the last three or four years.
Q: What did you take away from that experience?
A: You really have to develop confidence. You never know who you're going to be dealing with, so you have to learn how to handle yourself in public, what to say and not to say.
Q: What is the most rewarding part of running the gym?
AI enjoy so much seeing what the gym offers to the community, especially to athletes. Also, the charitable work we do.
Q: The most discouraging?
A: Not even Disney can make everyone happy. Wanting to make everyone happy and not being able to can be very frustrating. The other thing is when these kids and parents come in with Olympic dreams, and the child can't even do a really good cartwheel. That's not always easy to have those conversations with parents.
Q: What are the benefits of taking part in gymnastics?
A: It develops the body in ways other sports can't. Pound for pound, our girls are so much more mature than 90 percent of kids their age. It's amazing what they can do. When they come off the floor, their arms and legs are so well muscularly defined, and it's not from pumping weight for hours or steroids. It's because of what gymnastics does for the body.
Q: When is the ideal time to start gymnastics?
A: I don't know that there's a perfect starting point. Obviously, if you want to be competitive, the younger the better, but the best time to start gymnastics is when you have the heart to do it.
Q: What do you hope your athletes take away from studying at your gym?
A: Discipline, confidence and all around being a good person. We hope they leave as good people, who are well-rounded.
Contact Casey Phillips at email@example.com or 423-757-6205.