Transforming a Cultural Mountain from the Ground Up
An inspiring Olympic story of a mom who became a change agent
The 2012 Olympic games have had many inspiring stories. One of those was 16 year old gymnast Gabby Douglas who made history with her gold medal winning all-around performance and team gold medal winning performance. She commented after her win: "And I give all the glory to God. It's kind of a win-win situation. The glory goes up to Him and the blessings fall down on me," she said.
I pondered her success and recalled another inspiring story that took place in 1996 by a little known change agent mom who may have laid the foundation for the 2012 U.S. Olympic team. Rarely do I find a story that so demonstrates what it means to influence a cultural mountain as the story of Lynne Ruhl. In the early eighties her seven-year old daughter participated in gymnastics, just as most American children do at
one time or another. However, Lynne’s daughter showed particular promise,
according to some competitive gymnastics coaches. She was invited to put her
daughter in a competitive gymnastics program that would require her to train
for eleven hours a week.
Lynne’s first thought was, “I need to get to know anyone who is going to
have eleven hours of my daughter’s life each week.” So she visited with the
gym that wanted her to participate. What she found deeply disturbed her. She
learned that the environment of competitive gymnastics was so damaging to
young girls that she could not let her daughter participate. The girls were ridiculed,
shamed, and treated like robots. The environment fostered very negative
and competitive attitudes between the gymnasts.
She hunted for other gyms that did not model such a culture. However, she could not find one.
Her only answer was to buy a gym. After consulting with her husband,
they found a gym that they felt they could purchase. It was in disrepair, but
they felt it was the one they were to buy. However, something happened just
before she was to finalize the deal that prevented the purchase. This led to her
being retained to develop the culture within the very gym they felt they were
to be involved with. While at the time this was seen as a devastating roadblock,
it was a divine interruption to her plans.
Lynne identified a trainer named Mary Lee Tracy who she felt could understand
and implement a healthy culture that valued the girls and built up their
self-esteem. Lynne prayed with the girls and invested into their lives emotionally
and spiritually. She developed a detailed program for the girls. Mary Lee
Tracy was not a follower of Christ at the time and “sort of put up with me,” as
Lynne says. However, the tragic death of Lynne’s brother led to Mary Lee, along
with fifteen others, accepting Christ at the funeral. Mary Lee would now not
only embrace the emotional but also the spiritual culture Lynne was creating
for the Cincinnati Gymnastics Academy.
It took six full years before culture changed for the now two hundred girls
who were enrolled in her training program. The real evidence that they not
only changed a culture but were also extremely successful as a result was two of
their girls—Amanda Borden and Jaycie Phelps—making the 1996 US Olympic
Women Gymnastics team and winning the gold medal for team combined
exercises for the United States, the first ever for a US Women’s Olympic gymnastics
program. Other members of that team were Amy Chow, Dominique Dawes, Shannon Miller, Dominique Moceanu, Jaycie Phelps and Kerri Strug. Millions around the world witnessed the U.S. Team's outstanding performance to clinch the team gold medal, outscoring Russia and Romania.
The notoriety and news value that this created put Lynne’s gym on the
national map for Olympic gymnast’s training. She would be called upon to
speak and explain why changing the culture in training young girls was so
vital, primarily for the health of the girls but also to lead to a successful program.
The Olympic trainers listened, and Cincinnati Gymnastics Academy
became a model for training Olympic gymnasts. Gymnastic organizations
from around the world began to send their coaches to Lynne’s gym to learn
her secret. The gym became known as the “hospital” for competitive gymnasts.
Head coach Mary Lee Tracy became the assistant coach for the 1996 and 2000
US Olympic Women Gymnastics teams.
Tracy went on to become an internationally recognized coach as described in her 2012 bio.
For 27 years Mary Lee Tracy has been the President and Head Coach at the successful Cincinnati Gymnastics. Her philosophy for her gym and her life: “We teach gymnastics through Loving Discipline while Serving and Enriching the lives of others.” Some of her numerous awards include many Region V coach of the year, Girl Scouts award for Women of Distinction and USA Gymnastics Women’s Coach of the Year. She was honored as the 2008 USAG Hall of Fame Inductee and the 2008 Region 5 Hall of Fame Inductee. Her success as a coach includes coaching two Olympic Games 1996 and 2000, 8 World Championships, 4 Pan American Games and 4 Post Olympic Tours, with over 18 elite gymnasts including her two members of the 1996 Olympic gold medal team, Amanda Borden and Jaycie Phelps.
It all began when a mom said, “This is not acceptable.”
Truly, Lynne and her team had transformed a cultural mountain in a
highly developed and competitive industry.
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