While Melody Gammon spends a majority of her time teaching younger children the tricks of the competitive gymnastics trade, she still leaves herself some time to compete on a national level.

Despite facing criticism from some fellow gymnasts for competing into her 30s, Gammon said she loves honing her craft and still thrives off of the rush of competition.

Name: Melody Gammon

Age: 34

Town: Oxford

Job: Sole proprietor of Oxford Hills Gymnastics.

School/major: Boston University/physical education and coaching

At what age did you get involved with gymnastics? I joined my first gymnastics class when I was 9 years old (which is considered a late start). My family had just moved to the Oxford Hills area from southern Maine. Donna Landry was running an after-school program at Guy E. Rowe Elementary School through the YMCA. A few years later, I was her right-hand (wo)man, traveling with her to the area schools and helping her teach the classes.

What was it that drew you to gymnastics? I first remember having an interest in gymnastics in the third grade. I knew that I was naturally flexible, and I wanted to put that talent to use but didn’t quite know how. I was playing softball at the time, and as enjoyable as it was, I didn’t need to be limber to be good at it. I thought about ballet (ballerinas are flexible . . . right?) At the time, there was a gym that was visible from the I-95 when we would drive to Portland. There was a big logo on the side of the building and I was always drawn to it. I really can’t say why I was so mesmerized by it. I used to try to imagine what was going on inside the building. I had a feeling it was something magical.

What do you enjoy about competitive gymnastics? I come from a big family with eight siblings, seven of which are older than me, and have always been super competitive. With so many older siblings, I felt I had to do something that would set me apart.

In competitive gymnastics, I thrive off feedback and strive to improve my performances, whether it’s on or off the mat. I love how I get immediate feedback at a gymnastics competition. I do a routine, and I get a score. Boom. After the meet is over, I get a printout of everyone’s scores and get my ranking. Having been the only adult competing in the Xcel program in Maine, I have been placed in my own age group, which means I am not competing against anyone else for medals. However, I still like to know where I stand.

I believe that competition is the greatest equalizer. When you go to a meet, you don’t see the path the gymnast has taken to get there. You have no idea how her body is feeling, no idea how many hours she has trained, no idea how many times she’s fallen off the beam or how she feels about her chances in the meet. I have been criticized for continuing to be a competitive gymnast at my age, and have been told more times than I can count how they separate me from the other competitors to “make it fair to everyone.” I’ve been accused of “taking opportunities away from younger gymnasts.” A professional member of USA Gymnastics told me once that “we’re all laughing at you” and that I was a joke. Just like all of the other competitors out there, no one sees that baggage when I show up at a meet.

How did competing in gymnastics turn into teaching gymnastics to others? When I first helped my predecessor teach after-school gymnastics classes, I did it to help make my gymnastics class affordable. I loved gymnastics right away and was happy to be involved in any way possible.

I moved to the Boston area in 2005 and got involved with AmeriCorps. I went through a period where I didn’t have anything to do with gymnastics. I couldn’t tell you who the national champion was during that time. I ended up with a nice cushy job at Boston University, and one of the amazing benefits was tuition remission. I took full advantage of that and got myself into a master’s program. At the time, I had my sights set on becoming an athletic director. I wanted to work behind the scenes. The closest program I could find at BU was their Physical Education and Coaching program, and one of the requirements was a full year of coaching practicum.

In 2010, I found myself back in the gym, coaching for 1968 Olympian Kathy Corrigan. It didn’t take much time in the gym to rekindle my passion for gymnastics and coaching. A year later, I was exclusively coaching as a source of income and haven’t looked back since. There was a short phase a couple of years ago where I considered leaving gymnastics again to get into classroom teaching, but the gym ownership opportunity presented itself to me, and the rest is history.

What is it that keeps you interested in teaching gymnastics? The reason I continue to enjoy coaching is watching the progress (of my students) and being a part of it. I love the excitement in a student’s eyes when he or she finally gets that last skill check-off for their class. I’ve seen some amazing progress this year. I have two 5-year old gymnasts who started out in my Tumble Tots Pre-School program and are now in our Intermediate Learn program. One gymnast who started out in our Beginner Explore program last fall is now a member of our competitive team. It has been equally satisfying to watch the gymnasts who have struggled with a skill for a long time finally be able to do it with ease because they have put in a lot of effort, built strength in the right muscles and understand the skills like never before.

Do you have a favorite gymnast, whether it’s somebody you know from your own life, or a renowned gymnast? I am certainly partial to competitive gymnasts who are full-grown adults, such as Jordan Jovtchev, Oksana Shusovitina, Houry Gebeshian and Marian Dragulescu. Chris Brooks is also a personal favorite of mine. He made his first Olympic team at the age of 29 and was the captain of the team. I’ve met him a couple of times and saw him live in action and the way he is able to motivate his competitors and teammates, all while fighting through his own fears. Unlike a lot of talented athletes, he is very down-to-earth, humble and will talk to mortals like myself.

I also have a special place in my heart for Svetlana Boguinskaia. I never cared much for her back in the 90s, as she was a huge rival of American gymnasts like Kim Zmeskal and Shannon Miller. The American media seemed to focus on the stoic, competitive Soviet things she said about her American competitors and that always rubbed me the wrong way. Her style was a bit too raw and uninhibited for my young mind. However, I met her and her former teammate, Tatiana Lysenko, at a gymnastics camp in 1999. They were planning a gymnastics camp of their own, and I was personally invited by Lysenko to be one of their first coaches the following summer. While working at the camp, I got to know Boguinskaia outside of gymnastics, and she had so many admirable qualities. I love telling people the story about her buying me my first beer ever. It’s definitely an event I will never forget.

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