Hilliard Brings Gymnastics to Harlem
first African-American to make the U.S. Rhythmic Gymnastics National
Team–she later became its captain and coach–Wendy Hilliard also
heads her own foundation, a successful non-profit group devoted
to bringing gymnastics to children in disadvantaged communities.
She’s been an active and important athlete-representative on the
United States Olympic Committee. Hilliard is also a network sports
broadcaster–she’s done two Olympics in the booth–and
a prominent member of the Board of Directors of NYC 2012, the
organization responsible for attempting the near-impossible feat
of bringing the 2012 Summer Olympics to New York.
In the midst of all this, she somehow still had the patience to
personally direct 380 chattering 6-12 year-old Summer Gymnastics
Program participants in a featured dance number–set to music from
the first “Austin Powers” film–at the 7th Annual Gymnastics Gala
at the Harlem PAL.
think bringing gymnastics to kids who otherwise would never be
anywhere near it is extremely important,” says Hilliard. “The
impact of this sport goes way beyond athletics: this is a highly
structured activity that creates commitment and teaches discipline.
It’ll help you in all walks of life.” Hilliard’s’ classes are
not “merely” gymnastics as we know it from the Olympics; they
include rhythmic gymnastics–a sport where athletes use equipment
such as a hoop or a ball in their difficult routines–trampoline
art, and dance as well. “They all start with the same basics,”
says Hilliard. “And, ultimately, they all teach the same things.”
The kids certainly had a ball. Their fun was only exceeded by
the pride of the parents who attended the gala in record numbers,
helped in innumerable ways, and cheered at deafening levels. “I’m
from Los Angeles,” parent-helper Debra Brown said, pointing to
her 12-year old daughter, LeAna. “We heard about this program
from the Dance Theater of Harlem in L.A.–they partner with Ms.
Hilliard. Yes, it is a sacrifice to spend six weeks in New York.
But this is what LeAna wants to do–so it’s worth it.”
The goal of the partnership between the Wendy Hilliard Foundation
and the Dance Theater of Harlem is to have a diverse team of young
women who were trained in Harlem compete in the 2012 Olympics.
Which, if Ms. Hilliard has anything to do with it, will be held
in the Big Apple.
are doing our best to convince the world,” she says. “We’re bringing
major athletic events–the National Triathlon Championships, the
U.S Weightlifting Championships, the Wrestling Worlds–to New York
City to prove to the different federations that we have the facilities,
the transportation, the infrastructure, and the interest. We have
tough competition, both from inside the U.S. [Washington, San
Francisco, and Houston also want the Games] and from around the
world [Moscow, London, etc.] But I feel we have a great chance
at succeeding. For one thing, those foreign cities already held
Olympic Games. And, among the American cities, I feel that New
York has an edge both because of its innate uniqueness, and due
to the horrible events of 9/11,” says Hilliard.
would be historic to hold an Olympic Games here. And the Olympics
has a great sense of history.”#
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