After 29 years of teaching gymnastics, Shelley Carroll still likes to do a cartwheel now and again.
But with the closing of Gymstar Gymnastics, the Shelburne Road gymnastics school she ran since 1991, any celebratory cartwheels, flips or leaps will be tinged with sadness.
Some of Carroll’s best memories are of “seeing gymnasts starting here and coming back and working for me.”
One of those gymnasts was Lexi Riell who started at Gymstar when she was just 2 years old.
Decades later, Riell managed Gymstar and was groomed to take over the school, with Carroll planning to retire.
That dream was a victim of COVID-19.
“With what’s going on, it’s not a good time to run a business. So, I’m going to move on and retire,” Carroll said.
Riell said she still hopes someday she might start a gymnastics school, but that day is not now, in the middle of a pandemic.
Riell’s aunt owned a gymnastics academy in Winooski. She spent a lot of time there. She went to Gymstar with her daycare group. She loved getting to spend so much time at the gyms.
“It was always fun coming to Gymstar. Everybody loved Shelley,” Riell said.
She even shares Carroll’s love of the cartwheel, and remembers learning how to do a proper one at Gymstar.
“It was here using the cartwheel mats that I got my legs straight for the first time when I was 5,” Riell said.
The closing of Gymstar is “very sad but in a way it’s a new chapter. Hopefully one day I’ll be able to reopen a facility,” Riell said.
Carroll remembers kids getting off the bus after school and entering Gymstar. “You know it’s their first time being independent. They are coming in and doing something they loved,” she said.
Included in those pupils were her own children. Both of her daughters went on to become state champions.
One of them, Carly Rivard, competed in gymnastics for Ithaca College. She teaches at Champlain Valley Union High School. Her other daughter Jillian Womersley is a physical therapist at The Edge in South Burlington.
They are neighbors in Shelburne.
Her son, Sean O’Brien, was active at Gymstar, too, but opted for a different route.
“He was a Rice basketball star and that was his claim to fame,” said Carroll.
Outside the family, member of the U.S. Aerial Ski Team and Olympic hopeful Megan Nick started at Gymstar.
“She started at Gymstar and she loved it. Shelley gave her her start. It’s tough to see it go,” said Colleen Nick, Megan’s mother.
Gymstar is filled with memories of children’s achievements and friendships for all ages, and Carroll said, “I’ve had parents telling me they made their best friends here waiting for their kids.”