The U.S. women’s gymnastics team captured the attention of the world at the Rio Olympics this summer, and sparked dreams of gold medal glory for many young girls and boys. One of the best places for those kids to pursue their dreams is Lake Murray Gymnastics, tucked away off Broad River Road in Irmo.
“Every four years we typically have a pretty big rush of kids coming into the gym,” said Abby Reid, gym director and coach at Lake Murray. “They’ve seen the Olympics, their parents have seen the Olympics, the kids are bouncing off the couch and they want to know how they can focus that energy.”
Reid said the love of gymnastics often becomes a lifelong one. “Some of them end up sticking with us all the way through. I mean a lot of the kids that I have on our team have started with us when they were 2 or 3 and are now 13, 14, 15 years old,” she said. “A lot of them do end up sticking with it. Those that don’t, the gymnastics background has helped them in sports that they choose later on. It gives you a lot of core strength and a lot of discipline, and it helps them to have the dexterity and coordination.”
Lake Murray Gymnastics offers programs for all gymnasts, from those interested only casually all the way to the most devoted. “We have kids that don’t train as many days or hours because they want to have good coordination and they love the sport, but they want to do soccer on the side, and then we have the kids that are working here 30 hours a week because they have elite status or college gymnastics on their mind,” Reid explained. “We have a large difference in what you can do in this sport, and you can find just about anything for everybody.”
For those who do have dreams of college scholarships and beyond, Lake Murray is the only gym in the Midlands which offers TOPS, a national program which allows gymnasts the chance to qualify to go to the Olympic Training Center. “We had 5 kids qualify for TOPS this year, and like I said, we’re the only ones here that do that,” Reid said. Lake Murray is also one of only a few gyms statewide to offer competitive programs for boys. “We have about 25 boys on our team program and we offer a lot of boys classes. So we actually do end up having a lot of boys in our program and our boys team does really well,” Reid said.
Gymnastics is a sport which kids can start at a very young age, and Reid can identify which have elite potential even before they’re old enough for preschool. “We have classes that start when kids can start walking, they come with their moms, and then whenever they are about 2 1/2 or 3, we typically put them into a preschool class and my job as the team director is to identify kids that are seemingly more strong or more agile at a young age.”
Reid, who has been coaching gymnastics for 25 years, said that talent is easy to spot. “One of the kids I found that is on the team now and is amazing, I found her on top of the rope when she was 3,” Reid said. “I had one kid that her mom came to me and said ‘She’s climbing the doorways,’ and I was like ‘Oh, I want to see!’”
The list of accomplishments by Lake Murray gymnasts could fill a book. Ava Allamon, 9, scored a perfect 10 in a tournament in Charleston earlier this year, a feat so rare that Reid had never witnessed one in person in all her years of coaching. The girls in the 6-year-old age group are reigning state, regional and national team champions.
Reid said the gymnasts who are devoted to the sport receive every bit of support she and the other coaches can give. “When we’re talking about the 30 hour a week kids, those kids are kids that grew up through our TOPS program for the most part, and were doing a lot of hours young and just really love it,” she said. “I mean they really show an aptitude for it, and they may not even be the most talented kids in the gym, but they are the ones that are wanting it as much as they want it. We try to provide an avenue for those kids as well. So we’re trying to make sure that we are growing as a team, not just in numbers but also in how well we are doing and how the kids are growing. And making sure we have a really knowledgeable staff to support them.”