Four years ago today, July 23, 2008, Gymnastike was launched. On that first day, it was an empty webpage with one lonely video, but a vision of much more to come.
Today, Gymnastike has created over 35,000 gymnastics videos, and covered too many gymnastics events to count. And coincidentally yet fittingly, on the four year anniversary, I'm headed toward the next big milestone for the site - flying to London to cover our first Olympic Games.
It has not been an easy road getting here. Over the past few years, I've traveled to countless cities to cover gymnastics, and no matter where I am, or who I happen to meet, I'm asked the same question - "How did you start Gymnastike?" Valid question.
I've told my story to many along the way, and today, I'll share that story in full with you.
My story began, probably like many of you reading this today, as a young gymnast with a dream of going to the Olympic Games. I have vague memories of being inspired by Kim Zmeskal and the '92 U.S. Olympic team, then I vividly remember watching Shannon Miller and the '96 team win team gold. I finally talked my parents into signing me up for gymnastics somewhere between the two Games, and eventually began competing and committing myself to the crazy long hours in the gym.
As a kid, I had a strong passion for the sport, a large collection of competitions recorded on old VHS tapes, and a desire to see more.
I worked hard in gymnastics, but I was never the most gifted athlete. Level 9 was as far as I would make it. The summer before I "retired" from the sport (I've always preferred that word over "quit"!), my mom talked me into trying pole vaulting. I thought she was crazy, but it looked fun so I gave it a shot. Turns out I was far better at that than gymnastics!
I somehow managed to pole vault AND do level 9 gymnastics at the same time, but that didn't last long. The balancing act took its toll, and it was time to pick one. Pole vault came more naturally to me. The decision, however, did not. I vividly remember leaving gymnastics and going in that day to tell my coaches. I'm sure any gymnast who has left the sport can relate to this. It was so hard. We cried. It was tough being away from the place, the people, and the sport that defined me for nearly ten years.
A couple years later, I was given the opportunity to compete in college for the University of Texas Track & Field team, and I took it. Little did I know it would lead me back into gymnastics.
In my years officially out of the sport, I missed it deeply. But more than that, I felt out of the loop, and there was nowhere to go to catch up and watch gymnastics. I realized it's not easy, or convenient, to be a "fan" of gymnastics.
Fast forward a few years, and I am a sophomore in college. A track teammate of mine, Mark Floreani, had just graduated and had the crazy idea to start a video website for track & field. His brother, Martin, was a recently graduated college wrestler. He had just begun to do the same for wrestling.
I remember them telling me about this new venture and thinking something profound like, "I don't really get it, but, okay, that sounds cool". It wasn't until I'd seen the early (and small) successes of the new company, and then thought about it in terms of gymnastics a few years later, that it became clear to me.
Mark and Martin founded Flocasts that year (2006) with very little resources. They were able to scrounge up enough money from faithful friends and family to buy an econoline van - one of those creepy looking vans with a bed in the back - a computer, and a video camera. They set out for the road in this creepy van, later to be named "The White Pearl", and began collecting video content. For the track site, they drove from Austin, Texas to Colorado, then up to Oregon, down through California, on to Arizona and back. They interviewed coaches and athletes, made friends in the community and only had to sleep in the van a handful of times, thanks to the hospitality of the running community they met along the way. Flotrack was born.
Two years later, it was time for me to graduate from college. I had a few media internships under my belt, and was aggressively looking for somewhere exciting to start my career. More importantly, I had recently seen the movie Office Space, and I was determined not to sit in a cubicle from 9-5!
A couple months before graduation, I ran into Martin and found out they were looking to expand and take on a new sport. It wasn't until then that I really considered doing this for gymnastics. The last I'd heard were tales of boys living in vans and this didn't seem like the most "secure" job path. Graduation came, and I took a leap of faith. This opportunity excited me, and I knew it would challenge me. Also, I knew from first hand experience that something like this was needed in our sport, so I was confident.
When I joined in July of 2008, Flocasts was a bit more advanced, but still scraped by with limited resources. The model was jack of all trades, master of none. I feel like I learned more in that first year than I would have getting my PHD across five years. We joke now that they dropped me in a jungle with nothing but a video camera and the words, "figure it out". Four years later, I guess I must have done a few things right!
In the beginning it was head down, be creative, and make it work. I started driving around Texas, crashing with friends and family, and lucky for me there are quite a few fantastic gyms in my area. Keep in mind though, this wasn't easy going to a gym to film when people have no idea who you are! What's crazy is the first gym I filmed in was the Houston Gymnastics Academy which was then home to current Russian Team Head Coach Alexander Alexandrov who returned home to lead Mustafina and the Russians to team gold just two years later. That was pretty cool.
I worked my way up from nothing into many of the top gyms in the country, thanks to great people who have trusted me, encouraged me, and welcomed me in with open arms. You know who you are!
Today as I packed for London, I remembered traveling to my first World Championships and I was so overly stressed. Boarding my flight today to London, it just felt right. I dreamed about going to the Olympics as a little kid, and now I'm finally on my way (not the way I had imagined, but I'll take it). I have worked so incredibly hard to be in this position, and have been uplifted by many in the gymnastics community. Thank you for following along and sticking with me these past four years. I am overjoyed to continue the journey by taking on London and providing meaningful coverage of the pinnacle of our sport, the Olympic Games. I hope you enjoy the coverage. Here's to the next four years!