The Women’s Gymnastics team at the University of Florida just took home the NCAA National championship! Although UF has showcased a top gymnastics program for years, bringing home the NATIONAL TITLE is a groundbreaking win for the gators. Congrats ladies—you have most definitely worked your toned, little bodies off for this! The Gator Nation couldn’t be more proud :)
Riding on this gymnastics high, I would like to update the blog world about my gymnastics work here in Santa Marta. The start of the new year has brought the development of other secondary projects (Samigas and Teaching English in Primary Classrooms~updates to come!). Unfortunately these developments have put coaching gymnastics on the back burner. I might not be at the gym every day, but I’m in touch with my gym family and have every intention to keep flipping. I will be holding some choreography sessions and hopefully a self-esteem charla during the Colombian school year’s June/July break (if not sooner!).
Emily Fiocco, a fellow volunteer, wrote the article below about my experiences with La Liga de Gimnasia de Magdalena for the February edition of our PC Colombia newsletter. Catch up with my gym life through her lovely piece!
Flipping Out in Santa Marta, Peace Corps- Style by Emily Fiocco
Last February, Sammy went on a search for a public pool in Santa Marta where she could swim laps. Little did she know she‘d stumble into the city‘s gymnastics gym, where the team was looking for a person just like her: someone passionate as well as knowledgeable about competitive gymnastics, who had an interest in coaching, too.
Since that day in February, Sammy has been the head balance beam coach and floor exercise choreography coach for “La Liga de Gimnasia del Magdalena,” Santa Marta‘s nationally competitive team. The team has about 14 girls from ages six to fourteen years old who are dedicated to the team and committed to the sport, despite the lack of what US gyms would consider basic equipment—such as a spring floor, vault, or uneven bars.
Instead, the girls tumble on tile floors covered with a few inches of cushion, and stack the cushions to make vaults. To compete, they raise funds, and travel to Barranquilla every few months, where there is a better-outfitted gym in which they can practice.
“They make something out of nothing,” Sammy says, “and they‘re so happy doing it.” Sammy competed nationally in the US and brings a working knowledge of USA Gymnastics competition rules and regulations, which Colombia uses as well. The girls who compete from levels 1-6 perform standard routines. Those who compete at the higher, “optional” levels, however, need to have individualized routines, which Sammy provides during her coaching sessions two to three times a week.
One of the amazing things, Sammy says, is to see her work come full circle. She spends a great deal of time with Valeria, one of the most advanced girls, choreographing and cleaning her routines. Valeria helps out with coaching the younger girls. In general, the gym practices strict coaching techniques, and often the main coaches give directions with yells and critiques. One day, as Sammy was leaving, she caught sight of Valeria coaching.
“She coached just like me!” Sammy says, describing the way Valeria clapped rhythms, encouraging the younger girls through their routines.
In the gym, Sammy has found a place where her talents make an immediate difference. During practices, she sees instant improvement. After one practice, girls may show real improvement on a certain skill, or their routines are noticeably cleaner. Their visible progress is a reward that provides a satisfying balance to the often-slow progress of work within her TEL co-teacher role.
Of course, there have been challenges. One of the biggest was learning a whole new gymnastics lexicon. Not just a matter of translation, the words can be completely different for different moves. Then, there‘s the matter of team communication—or an occasional lack thereof—in regard to practice times. Still, Sammy loves the work. “I‘ve become part of the family,” Sammy says. “There‘s definitely a gymnastics family and I‘m a part of it. It‘s amazing to be greeted with so much love and support, and to give it as well, to the girls and coaches and parents.”
This year, Sammy plans to give charlas and workshops on themes like body image, self-esteem, empowerment, team building, and even community service— powerful, meaningful activities that will build upon the close ties she‘s built with this group. An exchange with a “sister gym” in the States – for both material things, like leotards, as well as personal connections—is also in the works.
“It‘s been a wonderful way to become a part of the Santa Marta community.” Her experiences have provided her a stark illustration of two different worlds—but also the many cultural similarities. “It‘s just so amazing to see girls so dedicated and passionate,” Sammy says. Of course, that‘s a truth the Peace Corps community can state about Sammy herself.