Winchester gym trains aspiring gymnasts

Lindsey Gardiner, 15, performs a leap across the tumbling mat at East Coast Gymnastics and Cheer in Winchester. She has been competing for 10 years. Jake Zuckerman/Daily

Lindsey Gardiner, 15, performs a leap across the tumbling mat at East Coast Gymnastics and Cheer in Winchester. She has been competing for 10 years. Jake Zuckerman/Daily

WINCHESTER – The U.S. women’s gymnastics team turned heads with the towers of medals its members earned this summer at the Olympics in Brazil. Back in Winchester, the next crop of gymnasts are training at East Coast Gymnastics and Cheer to perfect their tumbles, flips and vaults.

Mandy Van Fossen opened the gym with her husband eight years ago. Since then, she’s been building up a roster of dedicated gymnasts. Her gym members have found some notable successes recently in the Virginia state gymnastics meet, bringing home two gold medals and a laundry list of golds and silvers.

She said Olympic years like 2016 lead to a major boom in enrollment numbers at the gym.

“It’s something like 40 percent,” she said. “We’re seeing a massive influx of students around here.”

Champion students at the gym include Lyren Bly, 16, who won a gold medal with her floor routine, and Alex Anderson, 14, who won gold with her vault performance. Additionally, Sam Burgess, 13, won a silver on the bars.

For the winners, and the students at large, Van Fossen said the women gymnasts are the talk of the town.

“That’s all they want to talk about is Gabby [Douglas], Simone [Biles] and Aly [Raisman],” Van Fossen said.

Bly, 16, who won a gold at the state meet, started training at East Coast when she was 9, fresh off the 2008 Olympics. Nowadays, she puts in eight hours a week at the gym while keeping up with her schoolwork and her trumpet practice with the band.

“It’s fun,” Bly said. “It’s a stress release after a long day at school to come and forget about all that.”

Looking past the household names, Bly said her favorite athlete competing on the gymnastics team in Rio de Janeiro was Laurie Hernandez, because they share the same event.

“She’s amazing,” Bly said. “What she does on the floor is really inspiring.”

While Van Fossen said no one at her gym is of Olympic caliber just yet (barring any surprises), she’s hoping to see some of her students make it to become collegiate-level gymnasts.

Bly said she’s just planning to keep gymnastics as a hobby in college and possibly continue competing at the club level.

Looking forward, Van Fossen hopes the spotlight on the U.S. women’s gymnastics team will do big things for the sport and for her gym. She said she’s working on relocating to a bigger venue to keep up with the growing demand for instruction.

Until then, it’s back to the balance beam.

Contact staff writer Jake Zuckerman at 540-465-5137 ext. 152, or jzuckerman@nvdaily.com

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