Written by: Coach Kelley
Say what? Gymnastics and dogs in the SAME venue! Where do I sign up?
This past weekend our tiny gym traveled all the way to Atlanta, Georgia to compete in the prestigious Paws for a Cause Gymnastics Invitational. While this competition featured many of the nation’s top gyms, everything else was dedicated to all things dog! Doggie leotards, doggie swag, doggie gym names…oh, and did I mention the real, live, actual service dogs in training? Some of the premier gyms in Georgia teamed up with 4 Paws for Ability to create one of the most unique competitions I have ever attended.
Our gym regularly participates in community service projects and February’s theme is puppy love! We are currently accepting donations for a local animal shelter and our lobby is decked out with dogs. Hearts and dog bones hang from the ceiling and people can place their donations in our “doghouse.” Our families are very generous and last year we brought several carloads of goodies to the shelter. I’ve also spent a lot of time volunteering at animal shelters and posting rescue dogs on my social media pages, so having a chance to combine some of my favorite things seemed too good to be true.
Learning about the process of training a service dog was truly eye opening. Did you know that each highly trained service companion can cost at least $20,000 to certify and place with a disabled child? The Paws for a Cause Gymnastics Invitational is an extraordinary competition designed to raise money to train dogs for families in need. As a coach, I welcomed the opportunity to teach our gymnasts that by participating in this meet they can help an incredible cause while having fun!
4 Paws for Ability enriches the lives of children with disabilities by training and placing quality, task-trained service dogs with families who need them. This service animal provides increased independence for the children and assistance to their families. 4 Paws also works with veterans from recent conflicts who’ve lost the use of their limbs or their hearing while in active combat. Families selected by 4 Paws for Ability work diligently to raise a portion of the funds required to provide their children with a much-needed service companion. The proceeds from our competition will be used to provide service dogs for children who desperately need them. So, by participating in this competition our gymnasts directly helped complete the financing for these families and enabled them to provide their child with independence, safety, and security. Each competitor, coach, and attendee are directly responsible for improving the life of a child in need. How cool is that?!
“Technically we all went for the meet, but in our hearts, we went for the dogs that will make such a difference.” Jackie Reinking – Mother of Lucy, an Xcel Bronze
From the moment we arrived at the Georgia World Congress Center it was obvious this wasn’t going to be an ordinary meet. My munchkins and I could hardly contain our excitement when we left the hotel just after sunrise for our first session. Many of us share our homes with our beloved rescue dogs so the idea of actual dogs and gymnastics in the same venue was simply overwhelming.
After checking in we immediately headed to the doggie meet and greet area where giant stuffed animals awaited us on a grassy patch of astro turf. We were informed the dogs would be arriving in a little while, which was probably for the best since we still had a competition to get through. We headed over to the Beagle gym and began our warmup. The competition was amazing. There were lots of new friends, hit routines, and so many smiles. After awards we remembered why we really came, the dogs. We headed downstairs to spend some time with Glizty, a gorgeous young lab who is being trained to assist a child with seizure disorders. Glitzy was happy to pose for pictures, play with her toys, and demonstrate how patient she is around young children eager to give her a hug.
“It was really fun and I’m proud of myself for helping raise money for such a good cause. The dogs were really friendly and the medals were so cute. I can’t wait to go back next year!” Bella Fuertes – Xcel Silver
The next day was filled with more of the same. Lots of doggie hugs, slobbery kisses and stuck routines. Competitions are both physically and emotionally draining on these young gymnasts. Add the fact that this was their first travel meet and I honestly had no idea how my kids would hold up. Are they having fun? Will they fall apart on beam? Can our tiny team hold their own against these big southern warehouse gyms? Something about the presence of the dogs seemed to make all of that disappear. Just knowing that Glitzy and her canine crew were waiting for us after the meet seemed to erase the usual fear and anxiety. The dogs didn’t care about medals and scores. Every child was a champion in their eyes.