by Gary Axelbank
May 28, 2019
Given the opportunity to work hard, build confidence, and achieve, the Bronx girls who learn gymnastics at the Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics Foundation (WHGF) don’t disappoint.
Watch the incredible Bronx gymnasts perform at Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics
On a recent Monday afternoon practice at the Harlem Children’s Zone on W. 143rd St., Madison, Rachel, Illary, Arianna, Miranda, Sophia, and twins Asta and Ida, all Bronx girls from ages seven to 17, showed off incredible skills in rhythmic and artistic gymnastic events.
“If I don’t have anything to do,” said seventeen year-old Madison Valentin who is from the south Bronx, “I prefer to be in the gym because I like to learn new routines. Sometimes it’s hard, but it’s also fun.”
Wendy Hilliard, who has been running these programs for 23 years, is an accomplished gymnast who’s been dedicated not only to her sport, but to the imperative of building young women of character.
“There’s no doubt that we want them to be successful athletes,” she told thisistheBronX as the girls stretched in preparation for the day’s workout. “But the most important thing is that they become confident and learn how to achieve. We push our kids to be good.”
Hilliard, who is a former President of the Women’s Sports Foundation, is an accomplished rhythmic gymnast.
She was the first African American to represent the U.S. in rhythmic gymnastics on the national team and competed in three world championships and the Olympic trials in 1984. She’s also a four-time USA National Team Coach and because she trained an athlete who competed in the 1996 Olympics, she’s considered a master coach. But she admits that those accomplishments take second place to providing quality, affordable opportunities in gymnastics.
“Coaching is hard, she said. “but it gives me much more pleasure to develop my staff and develop the kids.”
That development doesn’t happen over night. But because Hilliard Gymnastics is so accessible to urban girls, they stay with it for, she estimates, usually 5 to 7 years.
“You’re really a part of the child’s development and you get to know them quite well,” she said. “So It’s really gratifying that we’re sending them on a track to be very confident and very healthy.”
According to 17 year-old Madison, healthy both physically AND mentally.
“It helps me be disciplined,” she said. “It helps me be more active physically, but it also helps mentally with like things like anxiety and depression and stuff like that.”
The Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics Foundation serves 1,200 youth each year and in their 23 years more than 17,000 have participated in the programs. Hilliard recently launched a program in her home town of Detroit.
The Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics Foundation will be presenting their annual showcase of skills at the Harlem Children’s Zone on Saturday, June 1 at 10:00am and 12:30pm at 40 West 143rd Street between Malcolm X Blvd and Fifth Ave.