COLUMBIA — A cloud of chalk lingers in the air and cakes the mat as 27-year-old instructor Kristin Rugen conducts warmups with her students near the uneven bars Saturday at Hearnes Center.
Rugen, along with five other retired gymnasts-turned-instructors from the South County YMCA in St. Louis, traveled with their team on Saturday to the Show-Me State Games. But they didn't just come just to coach. They were also there to compete themselves.
Kathy Sanford, the commissioner for the Show-Me State Games gymnastics competition was thrilled that the squad of older competitors made the trip to Columbia, because gymnastics is typically dominated by much younger athletes.
The older gymnasts swapped stories of success almost as much as they swapped stories of injuries. "I broke my butt-bone once," 17-year-old Nikki Werner laughed as she pointed to her tailbone. She is also a retired gymnast that joined the coaches from St. Louis for the competition.
After the individual competition ended, Sanford stood up and addressed the crowd of parents and gymnasts.
“We are so lucky to have several retired athletes come out for this event,” she said. “It shows the younger girls that they really should stick with the sport.”
Rugen and South County YMCA gym coordinator Lauren Pounds said they enjoy the fun and relaxed atmosphere of the Show-Me State Games. Even though they have both been retired from the sport for about 10 years, it did not stop them from training for and competing in the games Saturday.
Girls usually retire from gymnastics in their early teenage years during their final growth spurt. Rugen and Pounds said it is during this time that figuring out the way your body works is too difficult and makes gymnastics a hard sport to continually compete in.
However, as a gymnastics coach, Pounds, 27, still possesses the basic skills needed to compete as a gymnast.
After lifting one of the younger girls onto the lower bar of the uneven bars and spotting her on her spins, Pounds jumps on the uneven bars and gracefully slides into a warmup routine that most would not guess is a relatively rusty performance. Letting go of the bars and falling to the mat, she immediately steps back into coach-mode and encouragingly shouts instructions at her students. Rugen joins Pounds as she spots and helps each girl off the bars at the end of their warmup.
Rugen says that she and the other retired gymnasts started training for this competition a few months ago. The six coaches, along with six of their students competed as a team in the competitions four events: vault, beam, floor and uneven bars. Six team members competed in each event, with the team chosing the best representatives in each event.
“We love competing with the kids because we don’t have to do the events that we don’t want to do,” Rugen joked. She personally only competed in her favorite event Saturday – the balance beam.
While the young girls on the team naturally benefit from the coach-teammate relationship that this group uniquely creates, the coaches learn a lot from their students as well.
“I’ve learned to develop so much patience for the girls,” 26-year-old instructor Katie Hemann explained. “I know how my body works, but figuring out how their bodies work is learning experience too.”