A Suffolk gymnastics legend comes home

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 25, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

It was 1976, and a young Lady Suffolkian named Hope Spivey sat down to check out the Montreal Summer Olympics. She ended up seeing her future.

As the then-five-year-old watched, she saw Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci (just nine years older than Spivey herself) become a legend for gymnasts around the world, scoring seven perfect 10s and winning three gold medals.

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The astonished youngster turned to her mother. &uot;I said, ‘I’m going to do that someday!’&uot; Spivey says. At the age of seven, she started to make good on her vow, learning the gymnastics basics such as handstands, cartwheels, and walking on her hands.

Little did she know that she would walk, flip, tuck, cartwheel and handstand all the way to global stardom; Spivey would indeed go on to compete at the Olympics, show her skills to gymnastics fans around the world, and set her own great example for every youngster that ever had a vision for themselves. On Saturday afternoon, she was inducted into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame, the first gymnast and first female Olympian to receive such an honor. The Hall’s &uot;Class of 2004&uot; included former NFL sack master William Fuller, former college and pro football player J.R. Wilburn, PGA mainstay Curtis Strange, NBA three-point standout Dell Curry, former University of Richmond Athletic Director Chuck Boone, sports marketing professional Russ Potts and three-decade Daily Press writer Bob Moskowitz.

&uot;It’s a tremendous honor what the state of Virginia has done for all of us,&uot; she says. &uot;We all start out with a dream and a desire, and it hills from there.&uot;

Back when she first started, the hill was a mountain. &uot;My form and precision was way off!&uot; she laughs. &uot;But it just evolved.&uot; That’s quite the understatement; a Level Eight gymnast by the age of 12, Spivey moved in 1984 to Allentown, Penn. to join the Parkettes gymnastics training group, which has educated over 100,000 young gymnasts.

&uot;I was on my own at 13,&uot; she recalls. &uot;I was away from my family, just around all the girls I was training with. They were like my second family.&uot;

In 1985, Spivey won a bronze medal at the U.S. National Championships, and two medals at the U.S. Classic. The next year, she finished 10th at the Chunichi Cup in Nagoya, Japan, and won a bronze medal at the Tokyo Invitational. Over in Moscow, she finished 16th at the Goodwill Games, and won a bronze in the uneven bars and a gold in floor exercises at the National Criterium Tournament in Paris.

Spivey’s team set a new record at the 1987 Pan American Games, and won a World Championship in West Germany. Then, in the summer of 1988, she went to Salt Lake City to fully realize the dream that Comaeci had first instilled in her.

Spivey took part in the U.S. Olympic trials, and all of her years of dedication paid off – she was picked to represent her country at the Seoul, South Korea 1988 Summer Games. &uot;Words can’t describe how excited it was,&uot; she says. &uot;You had to be there to experience a feeling like that.&uot; It would get better; Spivey helped her team to fourth place among the world’s elite.

After graduating from Forest Glen High, Spivey, then-America’s most heavily-recruited high school athlete, went to the University of Georgia, and became the second Lady Bulldog in school history – and fifth in NCAA history – to post a perfect 10, nailing perfection in floor exercises. In 1991, she became the first freshman to win the vault, floor and all-around NCAA national titles and be named an All-American in all four gymnastics events (floor, beam, vault, uneven bars).

As her college career continued, she set a school record of 9.9 on the vault, and tied the old beam record with a 9.95. She helped the Lady Bulldogs to an NCAA national title, won five individual national titles, and grabbed 11 All-American honors. In 1994, she was inducted into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame.

After spending over a decade giving it her all for others, Spivey decided to pass her knowledge onto others. She opened Spivey’s Gymnastics and Tumbling International in Winder, Ga.

Though she’d been showered with adoration and respect by millions for years, it was perhaps that moment in 1998 that Spivey herself truly understood how great she truly was. Until an athlete can take the time to look back on their career, she says, &uot;You don’t really understand the magnitude of what you’ve done. You really realize what great accomplishments you had.&uot;

She hopes to show her young charges the same feeling that raised her to such heights. &uot;I tell my kids to have tenacity,&uot; she says. &uot;Even if things aren’t going their way, they have to push through it. Don’t ever give up! In each experience you have, whether its sports, academics, or anything else, always try to see the positive in it. Even if it’s something bad, if you totally blow a meet or totally blow a test, there’s always something positive to find.&uot;