Calaveras Enterprise

Tuolumne Talk: The Olympics continue to inspire

Karly Cruff-Ferreira, 2, readies her dismount at American Sports Acro Gymnastics.Photos by Patricia Harrelson

Karly Cruff-Ferreira, 2, readies her dismount at American Sports Acro Gymnastics.Photos by Patricia Harrelson

Two days after the opening ceremony of the 2016 Summer Olympics, I’m writing a column that you are reading as the games come to a close. By that time, many of us will have witnessed broken records, broken hearts and even a broken leg, in the case of the French gymnast.

Not everyone is as obsessed as I am with the Olympics – that is, tuning in for hours of TV coverage, downloading the Olympic app to my iPhone and enabling notifications that send alerts about results all day long, and talking to people in line at the market about the women’s indoor volleyball team. Likeminded Olympic aficionados, however, seem to be magnetically attracted.

For instance, hiking around Pinecrest Lake the day before the opening ceremony, I waved enthusiastically to folks on the deck of a cabin who were flying the Olympic flag beside the American flag. They waved back, signaling a thumbs up to my obvious pleasure in their flag. The next day in the locker room at the gym, a woman called out to no one in particular, “Let the games begin!” and there was immediately a cluster of us discussing various means to watch the games and our particular recording methods.

Natalie Walker, 6, works on her floor routine.

Natalie Walker, 6, works on her floor routine.

Even if you aren’t compelled to tune in for two solid weeks, you can’t help but notice Olympicstories in the news media. The cover art of the Aug. 8 and 15 issues of the New Yorker, for instance, depicted five guys on a track racing through a swarm of mosquitos, an apparent allusion to Zika concerns in Brazil where the 31st games are underway.

The story of Olympic swimmer Yusra Mardini went viral on social media. A Syrian refugee, Mardini competed as part of the first team of Olympic refugee athletes, just months after swimming three hours in the Agean Sea while pushing a sinking boat that carried 20 people to safety in Greece. While Mardini’s story is surely one of the more extraordinary, many of the athletes have stories that captivate audiences.

I’m as drawn to the human interest aspect of the Olympics as I am to the superior athletic accomplishments. Stories abound: there’s the celebrated Michael Phelps, who, with 22 Olympic medals to his credit, hit rock bottom after the 2012 Olympics and entered a rehab program. There is table tennis player Olufunke Oshonaike, the Nigerian flag bearer, for whom Rio is her sixth Olympic Games. Only the second African woman to compete that many times, Oshonaike spoke in an interview about valuing hard work so much so that she competed when seven months pregnant with her first son. The up-close-and-personal interviews were as compelling as watching the Brazilian men’s gymnasts best the favored Japanese in preliminary competition, even though the Japanese team recouped and won gold.

There are books about hardworking Olympic athletes, for instance “Boys in the Boat,” which my book club read last winter. Author Daniel James Brown wrote the story of nine American athletes who went to the 1936 Olympics in Germany as part of the eight-oar rowing crew. This is my favorite kind of nonfiction: strong narrative, full of detail, information and history. Brown has an incredible ability to create suspense when writing about each race the crew competed in, even the climactic race for which the outcome is known.

I love stories about athleticism, about persevering through pain and adversity; I loved the investigation that makes Brown’s book and the TV coverage of athletes from all over the world so interesting.

The point is that the Olympics are full of stories surrounded by spectacle, which captures the imagination. After watching the gymnastics competition in the 2012 Olympics, my then 7-year-old granddaughter cartwheeled her way through life for the next several months. She created balance beams across kitchen chairs and swung from anything that remotely resembled uneven parallel bars.

Children see possibility when they watch Olympic athletes race, row and rally. They are charmed and enticed to delve into a sport, be it shooting, vaulting, soccer or gymnastics. According to Krista Cruff, a coach at American Sports Acro Gymnastics (ASAG), there will be a surge of enrollment at the gym following the Olympics.

Krista competed in artistic gymnastics in the Bay Area through her youth.

“I wasn’t a top athlete,” she admits, “but I loved it. The biggest takeaway for me was the team bonding,” declared Krista, who has coached at ASAG for two years.

ASAG has trained Tuolumne County gymnasts for 36 years. Once accessed down a hard-to-locate road off of Highway 108, the gym is now boldly visible from the new bypass. As sports move more prominently into the public eye following the Olympics, ASAG is poised for newcomers.

The gym offers classes for all levels, beginning with a Parent Participation class for newly walking babies to toddlers.

“The little ones learn to do forward rolls, walk on a balance beam and jump on the trampoline,” explained Krista, whose daughter Karly was swinging from gymnastic apparatus by age 2. “After that we offer a preschool class and then students can move up, gradually mastering the basics. After Level 2, they can choose between participating on the competition team or a class called Hot Shots, which is for those who don’t want to compete.”

On Aug. 26, ASAG is reinstituting Parents Night Out. This is an opportunity for kids to have a fun filled night with a pizza dinner and supervised play in the gym while their parents have a date night. Kids must be 5 years old to attend and there is a 25 children maximum, so if you’re interested, register early with Krista via email at

As the spectacle in Rio de Janeiro comes to a close, I bet that aspiring gymnasts will appear cartwheeling in parks and on lawns across the county. Get them to the gym while the motivation burns. According to Krista, gymnastics builds “strength, agility, balance, coordination and power.”

In addition to building physical qualities, every athlete – whatever the sport – creates a story. Perhaps a story began this month in Tuolumne County as some youngster watched the Summer Olympics.

Send word on your Tuolumne County event to

WHEN: 6 to 10:30 p.m. Aug. 26

WHERE: American Sports Acro Gymnastics, 19825 Seaborn Road, Sonora

COST: $30 at

MORE INFO: 532-2066

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