Feb 07

Baytown Gym Rises from Flood Waters to Host World Team Trials

Hurricane Harvey left a path of destruction across the Houston metro area, and Baytown, located on the northern side of the Galveston Bay, was no exception. For the Texas Acro community, that meant that one of our own was under water: Texas Academy of Acrobatics and Gymnastics (TAAG).

The first time gym manager, Jennifer Stone, was alerted about potential flooding in the building, she was able to make it in time. Mats were stacked on elevated surfaces, equipment was moved and the spring floor carpet was rolled up and put out of the way. The second time, however, she wasn’t as lucky. At this point roads were impassable, staff and coaches were dealing with their own houses flooding, and the gym couldn’t be reached. By the time she and gym owner, Anna Smirnova, arrived to assess the damage, the news wasn’t good. Throughout the the facility, which had originally been a church, there was 8 inches of water, soaking flooring and sheetrock in every room.

The effort to clean out the building began immediately, but it was painstaking work. All equipment and fixtures had to be moved out, flooring had to be ripped up and the bottom two feet of sheetrock had to be pulled off every wall. In some areas that took longer to reach, the mold spread all the way up the walls before the sheetrock could be removed causing even more damage. And that was just the demolition. Once cleared out, every room now required new flooring and every wall needed texturing and painting. Staff, coaches, parents and volunteers all pitched in, even while they were dealing with similar devastation at their personal homes.

With all of the chaos and uncertainty of the situation, Smirnova had one primary concern: the kids and families that her gym served and employed. Of the 550 students enrolled, about 100 had flooded homes themselves. Coaches and staff who were struggling to regain footing were not getting a paycheck while the gym was closed. The community was devastated, and she knew that re-opening the facility as quickly as possible meant returning a sense of normalcy to children that so desperately needed it.

“We could not have done this without the help of all of the people that sent us support. I cannot thank them enough.” – Anna Smirnova

The primary focus, then, was getting the main gym area restored enough to resume classes and training, and in two and a half weeks, they did just that. Families called to say they would have to take a break while finances were tight dealing with the recovery effort, but Smirnova comped tuition when needed.

The effort was a community one, parents and families donating services and pitching in hours of manual labor. But the must humbling aspect to Smirnova was the compassion and assistance provided from the greater Acro community, with donations and cash being sent from clubs across the country. With tears in her eyes she said, “We could not have done this without the help of all of the people that sent us support. I cannot thank them enough.” Contributions were received from GAT, Texas Acro, Crescent City Gymnastics, Boerne Gymnastics, West Coast Training Center, ATA, and Paramount, and the Acro community at large sent love, support and prayers.

Four and a half months later, the rebuilding effort was still under way. The main gym was back in business, but behind the lobby and hallways were offices and rooms with bare studs, concrete floors and piles of equipment. As money ran out, repair work would stall, then be resumed when more came in. Stone commented, “It’s a process. It’s a LONG process at this point.”

  

Cue a call from USA Gymnastics. In January 2018, ties had been cut with the former National Team Training Center at the Karolyi Ranch in Huntsville, and efforts were underway by the organization to secure new locations for developmental camps and events. For the Acro community, however, the timing was tough — less than two weeks away was the scheduled World Team Trials (WTT) event, a competition to determine the USA delegation for the 2018 World Championships and World Age Group Competition in Antwerp, Belgium. With flights and accommodations booked for athletes from around the country, the short timeframe meant it was next to impossible to relocate the event from the Houston area. And with deadlines looming to provide entry information to the World Championships, delaying the event was out of the question. So when ten days before the scheduled date for the competition Smirnova answered the call from Ryan Ward, the USA Gymnastics Program Director for Acrobatic Gymnastics, she had one quick response. Yes.

TAAG had no gymnasts scheduled to participate in the WTT, but Smirnova knew the community and many of the athletes participating. This event would be a pinnacle for many of the acrobats, the chance for which they had been training for years. Regardless of the massive work still left to be done in the facility, her immediate priority became those athletes and making the disruption to their experience as minimal as possible. She picked up the phone to call Stone, and the two got to work.

On Friday, February 2, 2018, five months to the day since Harvey finally released its grip over the people of Houston, acrobats from across the country marched onto the floor at TAAG and saluted the flag during the national anthem. The competition went off without a hitch, and the USA delegations were named for the World Championship events. “The staff, club, and all of the volunteers were incredible during the Acrobatic Gymnastics 2018 World Team Trials event.  Texas Academy of Acrobatics and Gymnastics has a phenomenal facility with equipment that is exactly what the sport of gymnastics requires,” said Ward. “I thank the entire staff of Texas Academy of Acrobatics and Gymnastics and each of the volunteers for allowing and helping USA Gymnastics host the 2018 World Team Trials event.”

Behind the mirrors and the flag, there is still work to be completed in the building, but the TAAG community is marching forward. Classes are back to full enrollment, some even with waiting lists, and teams are training for their upcoming seasons. In April, acrobats from across the state will convene in Baytown for the Texas State Championships, another milestone event, and the TAAG dedication and hospitality will undoubtedly be on full display again.

Photos courtesy of TAAG and Lisa Estep © 2018

Jan 24

Four Texas Acrobats Named FIG World Class Gymnasts

Four Texas Acrobats were recently named “World Class Gymnasts” by the Fédération Internationale de Gymnastique (FIG) following international events in 2017. For all FIG disciplines, the recognition is presented only at the World Championships, Olympic Games or the World Games and is an individual designation based on world-class performance. In acrobatics the award is given to all finalists in the five competition categories. Emily Davis, Maren Merwarth, Jessica Renteria and Aubrey Rosilier are now members of only 42 USA acrobats to have received the FIG designation. Only two other acrobats from Texas have been named World Class Gymnasts; Axel Osborne and Dylan Inserra (Senior Men’s Pair from WOGA) were named to the prestigious list in 2010.

Emiliy Davis & Aubrey Rosilier, Senior Women’s Pair (AGSA)

Emily and Aubrey earned World Class status by virtue of their fourth place finish at the 10th World Games in Wroclaw, Poland in July 2017. In only their second competition together at the senior level, the pair had the highest finish ever for USA women’s pairs at the World Games. They train at Acrobatic Gymnastics of San Antonio under head coach Vladimir Vladev.

Up next for the pair is the World Team Trials selection competition February, where they will seek to be named to the USA delegation to the 2018 World Championships in Antwerp, Belgium.

Maren Merwarth & Jessica Renteria, Senior Women’s Pair (AGSA)

Maren and Jessica earned World Class status after finishing fourth at the 2016 World Championships in Putian, China, the highest finish ever for a USA women’s pair. The pair had a long competitive history together, training at Acrobatic Gymnastics of San Antonio under Vladimir Vladev, which included multiple national championships, international medals and the first World Cup medal ever won by a USA women’s pair. Maren and Jessica retired from competition in 2017 following the Puurs World Cup in Belgium.

After retirement, Maren transitioned to competitive diving. She will be attending Trinity University in San Antonio, TX, in Fall 2018 and will be a member of their diving team.

Jessica is now a student at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, TX, majoring in sports psychology and has continued to be involved in the acrobatics community. She has traveled to numerous clubs as both a choreographer and clinician where enjoys sharing her knowledge and passion for the sport. She was also recently elected by her peers to serve as an athlete representative on the USA Gymnastics Athletes’ Council. According to Jessica, “My job is to not only be the voice for the athletes, but to protect them by looking out for their best interest and well being. I’ll do my best to fulfill my position and make sure the athlete’s voices are heard.”

Oct 10

Texas Pair Shines at World Games

They say luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. Such was the case for an acrobatic gymnastics pair from San Antonio, Texas, as they arrived in Wroclaw, Poland, for the 10th World Games. For non-Olympic sports such as acrobatics, the pinnacle of international competition is the World Games, held every four years in the year following the summer Olympics. The opportunity to compete in such an event is a rare one, indeed, and many factors must align for it to come to fruition.

Just over a year before stepping onto the floor in Wroclaw, Emily Davis and Aubrey Rosilier were finishing up successful seasons in different partnerships. Davis won the gold medal with her partner, Rebekah Jones, in the level 10 women’s pair division at the 2016 USA Gymnastics Championships in Providence, RI. Rosilier, meanwhile, wrapped up a strong two year partnership with Thalia Berry by securing a fourth place finish in the Jr Elite 12-18 women’s pair category at the 2016 World Age Group Competition in Putian, China. In acrobatics, though, it is common for partnerships to change season to season as athletes outgrow each other or move in different directions, so both girls returned to the gym in June 2016 uncertain about what their acrobatic future would hold.

Regrouping his team for the next two year cycle, Acrobatic Gymnastics of San Antonio (AGSA) Head Coach Vladimir Vladev had a vision for Davis and Rosilier, and it quickly took shape. The two picked up skills at a rapid pace and found that they had highly compatible personalities and approaches to training, which is critical in sport that has partners training together upwards of 30 hours per week. They set their sights on competing at the Jr Elite 13-19 level for the upcoming season, with a stretch goal of advancing to the Senior Elite level in time for the 2018 World Championships in Belgium.

Those goals would quickly change.

In March 2017, the retirement of fellow teammates Maren Merwarth and Jessica Renteria suddenly changed plans for Davis and Rosilier. Merwarth and Renteria had earned the USA berth in the women’s pair division to the 10th World Games by virtue of their finish at the 2016 World Championships. With their retirement, the field for selection of a women’s pair to compete at the World Games was wide open. Davis and Rosilier, along with Vladev, adjusted their plans.

After competing their first international competition together at the Geneva Acro Cup in May (the first international competition ever for Davis) and winning silver in the Jr Elite 13-19 women’s pair division, the pair came home and switched gears. They learned a new routine, choreographed by World Champion and Acro Army creator Arthur Davis III, and increased their skill difficulty to Senior Elite level. A month later, they competed their first Senior competition at the 2017 USA Gymnastics Championships in Milwaukee, WI, winning gold and being selected to represent the United States at the World Games. They immediately got back to work, meeting up with the rest of Team USA in California for a pre-Games training camp and arriving in Wroclaw at the end of July.

The competition in Wroclaw was intense, with top women’s pairs from around the world vying for one of only four spots in the finals. Davis and Rosilier had the “luck” of drawing the first spot in the first rotation, opening the Games with their stunning new routine to the classic Sound of Silence. After the second round of routines, they held on to third place and advanced to the finals, something that seemed quite a long shot a few months before. The unusual competition format, which called for all three routines to be competed in one day, was grueling but the pair kept up the pace, finishing in fourth place after the finals, the highest finish ever for a USA women’s pair at the World Games.

What did the girls think about this whirlwind of a year? “Being chosen to represent the U.S. at the World Games was a very exciting experience. However, it was very tough to progress so quickly in one year, from being level 10 to competing as senior elite. It definitely took a lot of dedication and a lot of hours spent practicing in the gym,” said Emily. Aubrey, too, expressed excitement over the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “I feel blessed to have been able to compete for the USA on such a big stage, and I hope that we honored Maren and Jessica’s legacy with a strong performance.” The girls both credit their coach for keeping them focused and prepared both mentally and physically.

Up next for the pair is the Pan American Championships in Daytona Beach, FL, Oct 13-15, 2017, followed by World Team trials at the National Team Training Center in Huntsville, TX in February. Their stretch goal of competing at the 2018 World Championships in Belgium is definitely within reach, and they are determined to bring home some hardware.