A Few weeks ago I had a college student request to do a story (an essay) on Jordyn, myself and the Twistars program. The final product follows. Thanks Claire for putting this well written document together (I do have to wonder about the impact it may have on shattering my “tyrant” image however). Great job!
Gymnastics’ SUPER TwiSTARS
She is an ordinary sixteen year old girl with an extraordinary talent; he is a typical work-oriented individual with a not-so-typical job. She is quietly composed, yet fiercely powerful; he is wildly ambitious, but precisely organized. She is Jordyn Wieber, he is John Geddert, and together they are World Champions.
Jordyn Wieber began gymnastics in 1999 at the early age of four. Only twelve years later she is the best gymnast in the world and has a title to prove it. On October 13, 2011 Jordyn captured the gold medal at the World Gymnastics Championships in Tokyo, becoming only the sixth American in history to hold this title. As Jordyn competed for the title in Japan, teammates back home huddled together at 5:00am on the gym floor. They were determined to be there in spirit as their teammate took on the biggest competition of her life. Stacked high on gymnastics mats, they had connected their computer to a television so they could view the live online stream of the Championships. It was an intense battle for the gold, and they could feel the pressure as Jordyn fought for every tenth of a point. When the final results flashed, they saw her face flood with emotion as she tearfully embraced long-time coach, John Geddert. “Two dreams were realized at that moment; Jordyn’s dream of being a world champion and my dream of coaching one” Geddert later blogged in his online journal. Training at the same gym for your entire career is quite rare in the world of gymnastics, but Jordyn and John have stuck together. Their relentless hard work and perseverance over the years has paid off. This vibrant, dynamic duo has respectfully worked their way into gymnastics royalty.
The gold medal from Tokyo would find its new home halfway around the world in Dimondale, Michigan. In 1996 John and Kathryn Geddert started Twistars Gymnastics Club USA at The Summit in Dimondale. A few years later, four year old Jordyn Wieber joined the husband-wife duo at the 15,000 square foot gymnastics facility. Jordyn took to the sport immediately and was in level 5 (usually recognized as the first competitive level) by age seven. With the help of the Gedderts, she progressed through the levels winning various medals and awards. At the innocent age of ten Jordyn was performing gymnastics skills equivalent to those of the nation’s most prominent college recruits. By 2006 she was competing as a level 10, the highest level in the Junior Olympic (J.O.) Program. She took no time establishing a name for herself, finishing 2nd at the J.O. National Championships during her first year as a level 10. In mid-2006 Jordyn qualified as an elite gymnast and received her first international assignment: the 2006 U.S. Classic in Kansas City. Next were the Visa Championships in which she placed 9th in the All-Around, earning her first chance to represent the United States on the elite National Team at the mere age of eleven.
The next five years Jordyn flipped her way through the elite program capturing numerous titles, her coach by her side every step of the way. In 2007 they brought three gold medals, one bronze medal, and one silver medal home from Guatemala. 2008 meant both team and individual all-around gold in Italy as well as Belgium, a clean sweep of five gold medals in Houston, and the notable title of United States Junior National Champion. 2009 followed on strong with gold at the American cup and five more in Canada. This year started with a solid win at the Visa Championships and finished with her most prized title as World Champion. She also helped the U.S. team, with Geddert appointed as their head coach, to the team gold at the World Championship. Wieber Fever, a term fans have coined, has undoubtedly become an epidemic. So what is next? Jordyn is a favorite for next year’s gold at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, but for now she keeps a focus on everyday practice in the gym and her junior year of high school.
She may be soaring through the air on your television screen, but back in Dimondale Jordyn is your simple teenage girl. While many elite gymnasts sacrifice public schooling due to a demanding training schedule, Jordyn has managed to coordinate a schedule that allows for school and gymnastics. She admits “It would probably be easier to just do home schooling, but going to school keeps things normal…and I like seeing friends” (Wieber). Some weekdays involve morning and evening training, so she must do online classes in addition to her attendance at DeWitt High School. It seems that, at sixteen, she has better time management skills than most adults. She even finds time for leisure activities; shopping and fashion are among her favorites, along with trips to the movies and time with friends. All of this would not be possible without some help from Geddert, who makes productivity a priority at practice.
Geddert has set up a training schedule that requires just over 30 hours a week in the gym. This is on the low end of the scale, as many elites train 35-40 hours a week or more. While Geddert knows that training for the Olympics requires maximum attention, he understands that too many hours in the gym can lead to physical and motivational issues. There is no perfect training model for coaches to follow, so he must go with his knowledge and experience in creating a schedule that will be the most beneficial to his athletes. It’s a fair assumption that his program must be working, given that Twistars has produced over 40 national champions. Although Geddert has a detailed systematic approach to coaching, smiles and laughs are always welcome at practice. His philosophy is to “Keep a positive environment where the girls can have fun and feel good about their gymnastics” (Geddert). This philosophy is not just a mission statement that John writes in his handbook; after my visit to Twistars it became clear that he emanates every aspect of it in his daily work.
I walk into the Summit at Capitol Centre in Diamondale, a multi-sport facility, and head toward the Twistars banner that hangs above the entrance to the gymnastics center. Underneath the banner is a table that proudly displays plaques, pictures, and a blown up article from the Detroit Free Press highlighting Jordyn and John’s recent accomplishments at the World Championships. I browse through the material for a minute and then make my way through the doors into the gym: the place where it all began.
It is a Friday night in early November, but the lighthearted smiles from Twistars gymnasts filtering through the doors indicate no concern over giving up various school football games for practice. It is hard not to instantly notice Jordyn, with her chiseled frame and refined movements. Her body is perfectly sculpted for a gymnast; her muscles are tightly toned, but she maintains the graceful physique of a young woman. She gathers together with the other girls on the floor as they share stories about their day and the latest news. They do a few stretches on their own and then begin the group warm up. While they jog, leap, and jump around the floor each gymnast seems to be mentally preparing for a positive workout. Kathryn Geddert stands on the sidelines making sure the girls are taking their warm-up seriously and preparing their bodies for the night’s practice. “Get a move on it” she urges as she makes a quick get-going gesture with her arm. The team looks like a well-oiled machine as they go through their synchronized warm-up movements, but they all seem to have smiles and are not silenced from talking and laughing with one another. Kathryn throws in a few more corrections and after about twenty minutes of fast paced exercises they slow down for some flexibility. Jordyn may be a powerhouse, but flexibility does not come easy and I notice her eyes in a deep focus as she pushes her legs and shoulders to their full extent. Her callused hands reach up to secure her ponytail as she readies herself for the workout ahead.
Jordyn lines up with the other girls as they are broken into smaller groups and assigned to their first event. She chats and walks with her group toward the balance beams. As I watch and listen I begin to realize that inside these gym walls she is just Jo; a compassionate teammate that focused on her dreams and happened to become World Champion along the way. Then I look over at John and Kathryn Geddert as they get ready for the first rotation of coaching. Kathryn has her arms around one of the gymnasts and John is headed toward me. He courteously tells me to make myself at home and cracks a joke after I trip over a mat. It is clear that I have been welcomed with open arms. Only thirty minutes into my visit and I now know that this Twistars team is a family and this gym is their home.
The girls all hop up onto their own high beam. Four feet above the ground they begin their beam complex: a series of walks, hops, scales, and positions to get them ready for the more difficult elements. They seem to have the complex memorized and do not need much direction or correcting from their coach in completing it. Each girl then has her own daily assignment to complete in an hour. Now the true gymnast in them comes out. Jo automatically whips out some of the most difficult skills in the sport of gymnastics, including a standing back flip with a full twist in the air connected to an immediate back handspring. You might expect some hesitation or fear as she is flipping and twisting on a four-inch wide apparatus high above the ground, but this girl is attentive and aggressive. She stops for a second to fix the bandage on her leg, and laughingly says to Kathryn “This blood is like gushing everywhere, it won’t stop coming out” (Wieber). It must not be anything too serious, as she hops back up on the beam within seconds. Jo continues through her assignments, keeping a count by making little marks with her nail on the end of the balance beam each time she executes a skill perfectly. A teammate interrupts to ask Jo if she has seen Paranormal Activity 3 at the theatre yet. She quickly replies and gives her input on the movie, but removes herself from the ongoing conversation after a minute so she can get back to business. The gymnasts work through their assignments, do some drills, and talk or rest here and there. Jo is a different world though. As I watch it seems like she is in a zone of perfection. The rest of the gym keeps spinning around her, but Jo is in total control and focus while she is up on the beam. She is always mindful of her surroundings, but keeps a profound concentration on the task at hand. As Jo wraps up her beam workout and the hour comes to an end, the group moves on to the uneven parallel bars.
Bars begin with each gymnast putting on their hand grips, which help reduce friction and allow for better grasping of the bar. This is when John comes into play, as his wife stays behind to help the next group on beam. John is a gymnastics encyclopedia. He is the most decorated women’s gymnastics coach in Michigan history and has produced well over 40 National Champions at the Junior Olympic and Elite levels. Surprisingly his 30 plus years of experience are not what have me in awe as I watch John at work with the gymnasts. Instead, it is his captivating charisma and motivational magnetism that have me at a loss for words. Everything about him screams hard work, detail, and success. Jo adjusts some athletic tape around her thumbs, sprays her grips with water, applies chalk, and jumps to a front support on the bar. It’s hard to ignore the obvious coach-athlete chemistry between Jordyn and John on the bars. There is no dialogue necessary between the two; he can tell from her body language when he will need to step in and spot her. Instead, the dialogue comes when Jordyn surprises Geddert by completing a Weiler out of her Shapashnikova half (he had expected just one of the two moves). As she muscles out the two tricks, he proudly smiles “Wooohoohoo…now she’s on a roll!” (Geddert). Jo’s response is different: she smiles at his approval, but was hoping to add yet another Weiler to the combination. This is the perfectionism that has earned her the top title in the gymnastics world. The chalk dust settles and I am taken back by the amazement of the atmosphere. There is a certain aura that radiates as John and Jo work; a positive vibe that lets you know you are in the presence of greatness. After an hour on bars, John looks at me to see what I thought of their bar workout. I just smile, nod my head in amazement, and make my way toward the floor exercise.
Next up is floor dance, where Jo will lead off her group. She positions herself in the corner of the floor, her arms crossed in front of her and her leg extended backward in her beginning pose. As “Wild Dances” begins to play Jo expressively lights up the floor. The music, a selection from Cirque Du Soleil by Ruslana, is full of sassy, energetic beets and a few vocals. It is a perfect match for Jo and she showcases her captivating personality as she performs her routine. The intense focus is still there, but you can see the spark of a champion in her presentation and smile. When her routine is done, she takes time to help one of her teammates on a dance element. She might be training for the Olympic Games, but she’s not too busy to share her gift and help a friend improve.
The camaraderie of the girls shows even more as they move on to conditioning. They partner up for some strength training and push each other toward perfection. The strength training is pretty intense, but the girls talk each other through the exercises with mental toughness. As they move on to floor tumbling, it is clear that there is no jealousy among the Twistars family. They cheer each other on and seem to share every emotion of struggle or accomplishment with one another. There is a positive respect among this family of gymnasts and coaches that distinctly explains their success. In two lines they pound out tumbling passes one after another, sometimes even amazing themselves. “Jooohnn, can you get me?” Jo yells from the end of the floor before her double twisting double back (Wieber). The pass looks polished, but John is there for security and comfort. After a couple more she signals him to move away and does one on her own, exploding into the air and nailing the landing with exact precision. Jo looks over to John for his critique, “Not bad for a girl” he mocks with satisfaction (Geddert).
After hammering out a few vaults, practice concludes with some calm and focused stretching. The Twistars share some hugs, laughs, and talk a little before heading home. John “Doesn’t like the thought of her behind the wheel on her own”, but Jo recently got her license and will make the twenty minute drive home to DeWitt (Geddert). She will be back at the gym tomorrow, but for now she heads to her actual home and family.
The Wiebers are a family of athletes, but there is no denying that Jordyn is in a league all her own. This is not to say she is exempt from pulling her weight at home however. Even the World Champion is expected to keep her room clean and do her own laundry. The Wiebers are a close-knit family and find time between their demanding schedules to support one another. Jordyn loves visiting her older sister who lives a couple hours away, cheers from the stands when her quarterback brother has a football game, and helps drive her younger sister around when mom and dad are busy. They attend church together on Sundays; something that Jordyn says is important to her and helps her stay grounded.
When asked if she has a favorite motivational quote, Jordyn responds “Well, one I think about a lot is the Bible verse ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’ (New King James Version, Philippians 4:13)”. She may only be a teenager, but her age is no indication to the depth of her abilities. As I drive home from The Summit, my mind tumbles through all the excitement of my experience and it is certain that I have caught the Wieber Fever.
Only time will tell what is in store for Jordyn and John, but I have a feeling this is only the beginning of their success. As they continue in an effort to make their next dream a reality, I am left with the idea that “You are only as good as your next performance” (Geddert). There is some rare magic going on in Dimondale, Michigan and the future looks bright for these Twistars.