Garrison gymnastics program motivates young people

by Rick Scavetta
U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern Public Affairs

Tumbling across mats, balancing on beams and flipping over uneven bars offers children at U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern more than just an extracurricular class.

The gymnastics program, part of the garrison’s Child, Youth & School Services program, creates an opportunity for young people to work hard, learn healthy habits, find discipline and compete locally, said instructor Petra McPherson. For McPherson, nothing is greater than watching a child increase their self-esteem.

“When the kids are happy and proud of themselves, that makes me proud, too,” McPherson said. “They learn that when they work for something, they can achieve something.”

Living outside the U.S., American families don’t often have opportunities for children to compete in local events. Through McPherson, team members take part in German competitions off post. Late last year, young athletes participated in county and state championships.

“You don’t find that very often,” said Shay Berchtold, the garrison’s SKIESUnlimited director. “We have a coach who takes them to the next level to develop through local competitions. That’s a tremendous plus that other communities may not have.”

McPherson, who was also a child gymnast, began coaching at age 14. She’s been teaching gymnastics in Landstuhl for five years.

“I love working with kids and I love gymnastics,” McPherson said. “It’s hard work sometimes, muscle work. It’s stretching and discipline too.”

A common misconception is that children must begin gymnastics very young. That’s often true for Olympic-level gymnasts, McPherson said. But for most children, it’s never too late to take part.

“You can always start. Not everyone has to compete,” McPherson said. “You can do it just for the fun.”

If Lydia Butler, 9, was not taking gymnastics, she said she would probably be “bored, around the house.” For the past two years, Butler has taken part. Her favorite events are the bars and the beam, she said.

“It’s fun,” Butler said. “And I get to complete against other teams.”

Ellen McMillan’s daughter, Elisa, started gymnastics at age 3. In 2012, she began training in Landstuhl and joined the competitive team. At home, Elisa watches YouTube videos of top gymnasts to see their movies, her mom said.

“She’s just really enjoys gymnastics,” she said. “This is her joy.”

U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern’s Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation offers a wide variety of children’s activities. For more information, call 0631-3406-4516/4122.