Abbey Brown, Jorryn Zelek and Jenna Pauly qualified for state as Level 5 gymnasts at Corkscrew Gymnastics in McHenry in a program that allows athletes to have a life beyond the gym.
Sanford Collins, or “Coach Sam” to his gymnasts, opened Corkscrew in 2012 with the belief that more isn’t always better when it comes to training. He limits his gymnasts to 10 hours a week in the gym.
“I really feel if a child is dedicated and they really really want it, then they will work twice as hard for 10 hours a week,” Collins said.
What he has found is that if athletes have an interest outside of their sport, it reduces burnout and allows them to have a more holistic, well-rounded development.
“It creates more of a balance. The balance between the gym and having a life outside the gym,” Collins said. “I want them to grow up having friends, not just the girls in the gym.”
Although he demands their full attention and commitment during training, Collins recognizes that gymnastics is not their only interest, nor should it be.
“I don’t restrict the kids from doing family activities,” Collins said. “I want these kids to be good at what they do but have a childhood.”
The balance includes fitting gymnastics into already busy schedules.
“Get in early, get them home, have dinner with their parents and still get a good night’s sleep,” Collins said.
Collins said the difference in his gym is that gymnastics is not its only focus. The gym’s main focus is “RESPECT,” which he said stands for Responsibility, Education in one’s self awareness, Social skill development, Personal growth, Elevate self esteem, Cognitive development and Teaching desire, dedication and self discipline.
“We’re not about just teaching gymnastics, we’re about child development,” Collins said. “We do teach gymnastics, but our real goal is giving them a universal outlook on life.”
Brown and Zelek, who compete in the 8-9-year-old division, and Pauly, who is 10, along with 10-year-old Emma Von Bruenchenhein, all have bright futures in gymnastics, Collins said. He expects Von Bruenchenhein to join her teammates in qualifying for state this season.
If left to the gymnasts, the time restriction might not be followed, especially by Brown and Zelek. They qualified for state at the Ultimate Wish Classic on Dec 6 ro 8 in Gurnee. Brown’s best finish was a second in the floor exercise (8.725) and Zelek finished third in the balance beam (8.65).
“[Brown and Zelek] are both hard driven, very dedicated kids to this sport. They would rather be in the gym seven days a week, 23 hours a day if they could,” Collins said. “What they can achieve in 10 hours takes other gyms 15.”
Brown takes a very mature view of gymnastics and doesn’t focus on being the next Olympian, but simply sees it as a way to get an education.
“Abbey has decided that this is going to be the way for her to go to college,” Collins said. “That’s more realistic. You would not get that on average from an 8-year-old.”
Collins sees his current Level 5’s progressing very rapidly.
“I would say that these four girls will be elite gymnasts within the next two years,” Collins said.
• Rob Smith is a sports writer for the Northwest Herald. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.