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Former national gymnast Shari Mann leads students to competitions

Monday, November 7, 2011 | 2:38 p.m. CST; updated 7:36 p.m. CST, Friday, November 11, 2011
Shari Mann helps her daughter Olivia on a balance beam in September inside Authority Gymnastics & Cheer gym. Mann co-owns the gym with her husband.

COLUMBIA — Wearing a smile and a pink tutu leotard, a 3-year-old tumbler at Authority Gymnastics & Cheer, uses tiny arms to try to push up into a handstand. 

Her coach, former national gymnast Shari Mann, stands nearby offering words of encouragement: "You're doing it!"

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The little girl can only hold herself up for so long, however, as her head hits the floor and suddenly she is in headstand position.

"Oop, almost," Mann says. 

Mann offers cheerleading, gymnastics, trampoline and tumbling classes at Authority Gymnastics & Cheer, a gymnastics center she co-owns with her husband on Peachtree Drive.

She'll accompany some of her gymnastics students Saturday to a meet in Columbia. Her cheerleading students head to Branson the same day to compete in Jamfest Mega-Jam, a tournament with an average turnout of 80 teams, according to the Jamfest website.

Mann's coaching ability comes from years of experience in the gymnastics world.

She competed as a member of the U.S. senior national gymnastics team at 16, placing her among the top gymnasts in the world. She was an alternate for the team at the Moscow World Artistic Gymnastics Championships in 1981.

Mann remained on the U.S. team for three years. In order to compete at a national level, she said she trained for up to six hours a day, six days a week in the gym.

"When I wasn’t in school, I was in the gym. It was a lot of time, but the opportunities gained were huge," Mann said. "I traveled internationally to France, Germany, Taiwan and Canada."

Leaving her mother, father and five brothers and sisters behind, Mann traveled across the country from Maryland, where she grew up, to Arizona State University to attend college.

At Arizona State University, she was awarded all-American honors. This award is given to the top three collegiate athletes competing per category, Mann said. She received this award for vault in 1985 and 1986.

After a semester of teaching abroad while obtaining her degree in education, Mann was determined to remain in the gymnastics world. She did so by taking gymnastics-related jobs such as coaching and judging.

It was during coaching of a competition post-college that Mann met her husband, Jonathan Liddle, who now owns Authority Gymnastics with her.

"We are both similar in our passion for gymnastics and kids," Liddle said.

Together, they opened their gymnastics center in Columbia after owning a gym in Arizona. The couple chose Columbia because they wanted to set up their business in another small college town and because it's centrally located to family living in the Midwest.

Even though the gym keeps Mann involved in the gymnastics world, she still misses aspects of competing like she did during her youth.

"(I miss) the excitement, adrenaline, being nervous for a few seconds before getting on an apparatus and the accomplishment of completion," Mann said. "... working so hard on a skill and finally being able to perform it."

Mann passed on her love for gymnastics to her daughter, Olivia, 8, who will compete Saturday.

"I will help her go as far as she would like to go," Mann said. "She is talented, has good genes and enjoys doing it."

This past Saturday, Olivia and her team-level classmates practiced their skills in the gym while Mann led a preschool gymnastics class nearby.

Mann sang and jumped with the preschool students to teach them how to stretch and land off the uneven bars properly.

"Make yourselves tall like the trees, spooky trees," Mann said during class warm-ups. "Now, make yourselves small."

Amber Semple, whose daughter Addison takes the preschool class, described what she values in Mann as a teacher:

"She does well of connecting with the kids on their level."


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