LUMBERTON — A little girl’s voice pierces the silence after her father hands her the telephone. Juxtaposed with the innocence in her tone, the command 11-year-old Morgan Miller takes in conversation comes as a bit of a surprise.
The rising sixth-grader at Southeastern Academy is student at Lumberton Gymnastics Academy, and has been for seven years. She credits the experience with giving her confidence.
“I’ve made lots of friends doing gymnastics,” Morgan said. “It’s helped me be less shy and more social to other people around me.”
Maturity at such a young age is what Kenan Lundy, who owns the gymnasium along with her sister, Lesha Walters, says gymnastics can do for children.
“I just like seeing how they grow from little kids into young adults and how gymnastics and the discipline of gymnastics affects their lives, not just in gymnastics but in school and everywhere,” Lundy said. “I like seeing them set goals and work toward them.”
Lundy recently achieved a goal of her own. She moved the academy from the 5,000-square-foot location at 2173 Gavintown Road to a larger location at 2109 Elizabethtown Road. The new 7,000-square-foot gymnasium also provides air conditioning — an amenity that was lacking at the older gym. About 150 girls get instruction at the academy, which offers classes like Parent and Me for children 18 months to 3 years old, pre-school classes for children 3 to 5 years old, and recreational and competitive gymnastics, as well as cheerleading classes.
Lundy says the new location offers major benefits to the girls who practice gymnastics throughout the week.
“Having the air is going to make a big difference, and the location is new and we’ve worked a lot to make it look fun and decorated it, and it’s just better,” Lundy said.
Because of the group’s dedication, commitment never waned despite the previously inhospitable setting. Just ask Morgan.
“I usually go three days a week, four hours each day,” Morgan said. “But the most you can go is four days a week for four hours each day.”
Fellow students, Ariana Hosseini, 15, and Sydney Jackson, 13, say it’s their passion.
“Everytime we get the chance, we flip,” Sydney said. “It feels like you’re flying.”
Along with other girls from the competitive team with Lumberton Gymnastics Academy who qualified at meets to compete at the state level, Morgan earned a placing. With that same youthful innocence, she said she did “pretty good all around.” Doing “pretty good” was a fourth-place ranking of all the girls in the region, which is made up of North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi and Alabama.
Her father, Richard Miller, who says the academy does “such a good job,” describes the play-by-play of watching her in competition as though he were rooting for a basketball team. Even he marvels at his enthusiasm.
“I never thought I’d get into watching gymnastic, because as a parent, if you sit and watch a soccer game, you watch for an hour and a half,” Miller said. “When you go to a gymnastic routine, you watch them do something for 15 seconds, and while you watch them, you couldn’t be any more nervous.”
Lundy said that competitive gymnastics takes dedication, grace, heart and soul, strength and flexibility. But Miller thinks that his daughter has found strength in more ways than one.
“They stay physically fit and they grow up to be really strong women and it’s just a great thing,” he said.
Perhaps no one understands better the benefits than Lundy, who started working as a coach at the Lumberton Gymnastics Academy when she was 17, and came to co-own the business in 2004.
As children from 18 months to 18 years practice their discipline on the balance beam, vault, bars and mat, each one is working toward a goal — whether it’s just to have fun, or to perfect their form for competition.
“It really teaches you that the things that you want to achieve, you have to make a plan and stick with it and work for it and it eventually will come,” Lundy said.