by herself and Karen Louise Hollis
I actually started gymnastics because of ice skating. I know that sounds strange but my original chosen sport was figure skating and I was starting to compete at the regional level quite young. I loved to jump and spin and could land one triple jump. At one point I was thinking wouldn’t it be great to go to the Winter Olympics? I was put in a gymnastics class to help with my flow and grace as my dancing was lacking. But then everything changed, I found I loved gymnastics. You could fly, flip and twist. It was so fun. I excelled really fast and got trick after trick. Eventually it came to the point I had to choose. You can’t be a jack of all trades athlete if you have Olympic dreams. My skating coach was devastated when I chose to pursue gymnastics. I continued at Arena Gymnastics and then made the decision to move away from home and train at Grossfelds American Gold Milford CT. I was chosen for the pre elite programme ad that is where I really progressed at lightning speed. Bob Hanscom was one of the people that believed in me even though I was older than the other girls. I remain thankful to him to this day. I was in awe because there were super stars training there like Marcia Fredericks (1979 Bars World Champion) and Leslie Russo. I eventually left Grossfeld’ s after the Olympic boycott in 1980 and after a short stint back at Arena Gymnastics I moved to Reading PA and joined Berks Gymnastics Academy (BGA) where I was coached by Tom McCarthy. I stayed there until I left for the University of Utah and competed as a Lady Ute under the famous NCAA coach Greg Marsden. Coach Marsden literally has changed the face of women’s collegiate gymnastics. I have made some of my closes friends in gymnastics from BGA and the University of Utah.
I was born in Beckenham Kent in the UK. When my father was transferred for his job my family moved to the USA. I loved and trained in the States but still retained my citizenship so was eligible to compete for Great Britain. Living and training in the US but competing for GB had both advantages and disadvantages. I wish I could say the experience was all rainbows and unicorns but it wasn’t. I was in my mid-teens and wanted to make new friends and have some fun. However, the majority of the girls on the team were not very welcoming. Most of them considered me a foreigner and were not very friendly. They gave me the nickname The Yank. A couple were downright hostile. They would make fun of everything from my loud flower power leotards to what I called certain moves. For instance, an upstart on the bars to me was a kip, flic flak was a flipflop and straight was a layout. There was also the issue of the equipment; I was used to competing with spring floors and springboards. I felt like I was tumbling and vaulting on concrete. Even the bars were more oval shaped where in the US they were more rounded. That definitely threw off my timing on skills. What’s funny is I actually speak don’t even speak with an English accent but I changed my accent when I travelled over there just to fit in. I have an ear for music and play classical piano by ear so was able to imitate a decent accent. In actuality I sound like apple pie American. What I do realise is that teen girls can be very catty sometimes. However there were a couple that eventually warmed up to me and made an effort to help fit me in. I treasured that. Good grief I was only 16 and just wanted to have fun with gymnastics but also talk about movies, the latest fashions and of course boys.
I remember Hayley Price as being very quiet and I think it bothered her that some of the other girls weren’t very nice. She was always gracious to me and although she was quite reserved she always had a warm smile. She had class. Another gymnast that was sweet to me was Amanda Harrison. I always thought she never quite got the credit she deserved for her difficulty and lovely style. She was respectful and friendly. I think we shared a mutual respect for our work ethic. It does not surprise me in the least that she ended up coaching the great Beth Tweddle.
Kathy Williams and I corresponded for a while which was nice. She thoughtfully sent me a card on my birthday for almost 20 years. I am on Facebook with a couple of others as well. I am also still in contact with Eileen Langlsey who was a photographer from Great Britain. Many of her photos were published in the International Gymnast Magazine. She was a wonderful support and friend to me during my career with the British Amateur Gymnastics Association.
Competing in the 1981 World Championships and European Games was a wonderful experience. Being able to travel to different countries was an incredible adventure. I had a tough year in 1983 and my ankle was severely injured. It was heart breaking not to be selected for the 1984 Olympics. I did get to Los Angeles as alternate, but being so close made it even harder. It was disappointing to see politics come into play at trials where the majority of my routines had a judge’s conference. Still going to the Olympics was an experience I will never forget.
Cheryl finished 5th in the all-around at the 1981 Moscow News Competition, won gold on floor at the 1981 Coca Cola International and as a result finished on the front cover of The Gymnast magazine in February 1982.
I was lucky enough to have some good results for Great Britain and am proud of what I did. I have seen British Gymnastics definitely take an upwards turn. I would like to think that perhaps I had a small part back in the 1980s of getting the ball rolling. I am very proud of super star Beth Tweddle who is unquestionably the best and most successful gymnast Great Britain has ever produced. I am so proud of both the men’s team and women’s team with how they did at the 2015 World Championships. I expect to see some amazing things in Rio and beyond. I think the Brits are becoming a force to be reckoned with on the world & Olympic stage.
I seem to remember that Cheryl was the first British girl to perform the Tkachev. That must have set a new level in British gymnastics.
Since retiring from gymnastics I went on to get my Exercise and Sports Science Degree 1989 and Physical Therapy degree 1994 at the University of Utah. I worked for ten years at the local hospital in orthopedics. I got married and have two children, Hunter who is 15 and Carson who is now 18. However, I longed for something athletic again. I had been out of sports for a while. I kept relatively fit with aerobics and various fitness classes but I missed the competition and the thrill of working towards tangible goals. Then I discovered taekwondo. When Carson was young he was often the target of bullying because of his size. He inherited my short genes. I started him at a local martial arts school to learn self-defence and instill some confidence. He excelled and quickly progressed through the ranks. I saw what incredible difference martial arts had made in his self-esteem and was so glad I had signed him up. I was even more excited when I learned that the school offered classes to adults as well. My original goal was to get my black belt but looking back I never knew how far it would take me. I was eager to learn new skills and literally get back out on the mat. I started in 2002 in Songahm style taekwondo under the American Taekwondo Association (ATA) As soon as I put on the uniform I felt alive again. It was like putting on that leotard in gymnastics. I was thrilled to find out that this was a sport I could do much longer at the elite level than gymnastics. They had age and rank divisions and I was itching to get in better shape and learn new things. I felt I had so many things I could do and wanted to erase some of the ghosts from gymnastics that still haunted me. Mr Stansfield recognised that I had talent and encouraged me to compete and enter what is known as the Leadership Programme. Cut to the present – I am now a 5th Degree Black Belt and have a record 26 world championship titles.
The other part of my life that I have been busy with after retiring is being an advocate for autism research with Autism Speaks. My second son Hunter is severely autistic and essentially nonverbal. He can sign a little and uses his IPad to communicate. The struggles of raising a child with autism go way beyond any stress I ever felt competing in gymnastics and taekwondo. It really brings things into perspective as to what’s important in life and has taught me a level of patience I never thought possible. Reaching the top in two different sports is definitely surreal. I am blessed that I can continue to be athletic – although I have to admit I don’t recover as quickly as I used to. Ibuprofren is my best friend in tournaments now. Having success in both gymnastics and taekwondo has kept me relatively young. I can still flip at age 50. I am grateful I have the opportunity to work toward new goals.
her story taken with permission from, A Golden Era of Gymnastics 1980 – 84
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