When Amanda Ristine was about three years old, her parents made a choice that shaped the course of her life.
“My parents enrolled me in gymnastics due to my high energy and climbing up and over everything,” she said. “I took to it quickly and gymnastics was my life!”
That mantra has carried into her life far beyond her years as a young gymnast as Ristine now owns Gymnastics West, a gymnastics training center for blossoming tumblers.
Ristine started her gymnastics career in Lexington and with the help of coaches, she flourished.
“They encouraged my mom to bring me to Kearney or North Platte to increase my gymnastics abilities,” she said.
Shortly after starting her training in Kearney, Ristine said she started competitive gymnastics, a commitment that required her mom to drive her three nights a week after school for workouts.
“I would spend a majority of my summers in Kearney staying with team families,” she said. “While doing competitive gymnastics, I was also very involved in competitive dance. I did ballet, pointe, jazz, acro jazz and tap.”
While Ristine’s career as a gymnast ended when she was a level 8 gymnast, her heart for the sport did not fade.
When the opportunity arose in 2015 for Ristine and her husband to purchase the business, she jumped on it.
“Tracy Moser, the current owner of Kearny School of Gymnastics helped start Gymnastics West in 2010,” she said. “She helped acquire equipment to start out (when KT Tumblers quit in Cozad). My husband and I bought the business and moved it to Gothenburg in 2015.”
The gym offers instruction to young tumblers starting at the age of two, and Ristine said the athletes can start competitions at the age of five.
“In our tiny tot/preschool we learn basic gymnastics, gross and fine motor skills, waiting their turn, listening to directions, along with counting numbers and ABC’s,” she said. “You have to be five years old to start competitive gymnastics. Each level has specific requirements so each athlete has to be able to master those skills in order to compete.”
Ristine went on to say that gymnastics isn’t just an athlete’s ability to tumble well and be physically flexible.
“Another important aspect of the gymnastics is an athletes’ mental state,” she said. “We encourage athletes only to be on the competitive team if THEY (the athlete) want to put in the work (not mom or dad). Gymnastics is a tough sport and it takes many hours of dedication.”
Knowing that each athlete responds differently to different methods is something Ristine said she and her coaches keep in mind as they help each gymnast achieve their goals.
“Mental toughness is hard to teach,” she said. “We do a lot of encouraging and reminding the athlete they are in charge of their own success.”
Beyond the mental aspect of the sport, discipline is the other big factor that Ristine said is imperative to be successful on the mat or apparatus.
“Gymnasts have to disciplined in many areas to be successful,” she said. “This includes showing up to practice when scheduled, working on things at home and being disciplined during practice in making adjustments to given critiques.”
Instruction at Gymnastics West goes far beyond what the gymnasts learn while developing their craft.
Ristine said that the sport stimulates the brain and nervous system of young children while they are growing through important development stages with cross-body movements that fire impulses between the two brain hemispheres.
“You will see us doing a lot of these movements in our tiny tot, preschool and kinder-gym classes,” she said. “Mental focus is learned early in life as children attempt progressive challenges in the gym. When they succeed, they learn to expect more from success. We call that confidence.”
The fun and exciting aspects of the sport are what bring students into gymnastics, and Ristine says that is what they strive for during classes.
“It is fun to win, and defining success and winning as personal best helps us deliver achievement to all our students,” she said. “This can be done by using a progressive curriculum to set short term and long term ‘achievable’ goals for students.
“Children also like to feel valued,” Ristine continued. “Being a member of a peer group of students, being in a class, team or club helps fulfill this emotional need. Helping our students bond as a group and feel special adds to their happiness and result in a long-term relationship.”
Instruction at the gym includes athletes up to age 18, and this year holds a first for Ristine.
Gymnastics West has one senior competitor - Jacey Golter - the first senior Ristine has had under her tutelage.
“Jacey is on our competitive team and has done gymnastics for nine years. She has been an All-Around Champion at several competitions this year,” Ristine said.
The club travels to four or five competitions over the course of a season and cover distances from Colorado to Omaha.
As gymnasts age out of her program, Ristine says that there are a number of things she hopes they take with them from their time at Gymnastics West.
“Determination, toughness and being a good teammate,” she said. “Gymnasts learn at a young age that gymnastics takes determination and hard work to accomplish a skill at hand. It takes some gymnasts up to a year to master a specific skill so they have to be determined to keep working hard to accomplish it.
“Along with determination comes toughness,” she continued. “Gymnastics isn’t for wimps. There are rips on the palms of hands, sore muscles, achy bodies, sprained ankles and gymnasts work through it all in order to continue to practice.”
The relationships the team develops are imperative to how the athletes not only compete but how they will interact in their long-term lives.
“I love to see how relationships grow during class and competition amongst teammates,” Ristine said. “This will carry through with professional relationships.”
Gymnastics West provides an atmosphere of learning and growing, both on and off the mat.
As they train and grow together, the message to each gymnast is the same, no matter their skill level.
“You compete what you practice,” Ristine said.
And based on the success of the program, the team is certainly on track to be successful far beyond their years in the gym.