Head over heels for gymnastics

by Deborah Alexander, Democrat and Chronicle    October 21, 2007

Sarah Jane Clifford has a passion for gymnastics.

You can hear the passion in Clifford's voice when she talks about the Gymnastics Training Center in Penfield which she has owned and operated for 20 years.

You can see the passion in Clifford's face as she watches students as young as 3 years old learn moves on the center's equipment.

"I love what I do," said the 52-year-old Clifford who competed in collegiate gymnastics while a student at Ithaca College, where she earned a degree in counseling and human relations . "Every day I'm blessed. "How many jobs are out there where they appreciated respect and applaud you?"

At the Gymnastics Training Center, 2051 Fairport Nine Mile Point Road, more than 2,000 students ranging from toddlers up to age 74 attend classes year round.

Clifford originally wanted to be a prima ballerina.

At the age of 12, her family moved from Princeton, N.J., to Rochester so that she could attend the Botsford School of Dance. It was 1968 and Botsford was considered the premiere dance studio at the time. School staff told Clifford's mother she was too small for ballet and suggested gymnastics.

Clifford embraced the sport.

"Gymnastics is just a fascinating sport," Clifford said. "Every event, every day you learn something new. The harder you work, the better it gets."

In 2001, Clifford purchased the Botsford School of Dance and incorporated the ballet school's classes into the training center's program.

Today, the ballet school offers world class programs from pre-ballet to advanced levels. Clifford said all students enrolled in gymnastics are required to take a ballet class. The center also offers Fit by Five preschool learning experience for toddlers, gymnastic and cheerleading classes for boys and girls from beginner to advanced levels as well as special programs for disabled children. At the Gymnastic Training Center, Clifford said anybody can start here and go anywhere.

The goal, she said, is that each student learns at his or her own pace and then strives "for personal best, not only in the gymnastics or ballet arena, but in all that life has to offer."

Her students learn discipline and how to set and achieve goals. Education is very important. There is an A-Team which recognizes students each month in a newsletter for their academic achievement. Clifford said members are awarded a T-shirt or pin for their accomplishments at the end of the year.

"We encourage parents to encourage their kids to do well," she said. "Without good grades, life means nothing."

David Hinterberger, of Fairport, agrees with Clifford's emphasis on education.

Hinterberger's daughters, Peyton, 9, and Mallory, 5, attend gymnastics and ballet classes five times a week. In the Hinterberger household, dad's rule is "school, homework and gymnastics," according to Peyton.

"Education gets you a lot further that athletics," he added. "It's important to be well-rounded. Education is a big part of that."

Hinterberger, 38, an engineer with Harris RF Communications in Rochester, said the training center keeps his daughters, both students at the Jefferson Avenue School in Fairport, active.

"This program does a good job of promoting exercise and teaching them how to work toward their goals," he said.

Peyton said the gymnastics "makes me strong and the ballet helps me with balance for gymnastics." She wants to compete as a gymnast in the Olympics one day.

Ten-year-old Chris Tricard, a sixth grader at Brooks Hills School in Fairport, also wants to go to the Olympics. Chris has won seven trophies in state competitions.

"You learn a lot of new things in gymnastics," he said. "I love being upside down."

Clifford said when starting any business, you are there full time. Now, the center is in "adulthood" and doesn't require as much. She has as staff to run the center and various programs. This allows Clifford to get involved with the community.

Her passion will always be gymnastics.

"I've been in this sport for 39 years," Clifford said. "It amazes me what these kids can do. You stay in love every day."