Just like in any sport, gymnasts need a place to train. However, these places require a monthly payment for training, competing and much more.
For MaJe Lee, University of Utah gymnast Kari Lee’s mother, instead of writing that check every month for her five kids, it made more sense just to run a gym herself. But it wasn’t without difficulty.
“When I took it over, people were not very forgiving, because they didn’t know me, and I wasn’t a coach — I was just a parent so I lost three-fourths of the gym,” MaJe said. “After the lease was up, I relocated the gym, and from there I got some really good coaches.”
For over 11 years, the Flames Gymnastics Academy has been a major part of MaJe and her family’s life. For Kari, it’s the gym she trained at for most of her career — and she has been a part of it since her parents took over the gym.
Owning a business can be tricky though, and many business owners can’t make it. Taking the core business classes for her major at the U has opened Kari’s eyes to different elements of the business world, and it has taught her how to run a business successfully.
“Stuff like that with technology and everything, it can make things a lot better,” Kari said. “Also with how recruiting has been so huge in gymnastics — they start recruiting at a young age — technology helps put videos together, so doing stuff like that for the younger generation is a big thing.”
Before MaJe and her husband took the step of running a business, she knew that she wanted her kids to do something active since she homeschooled them, so she got all of her children involved in gymnastics, even though she didn’t really know much about the sport. Kari explained that when her mother was younger, she always wanted to be a gymnast, but because of the cost it was never an option.
“But when she had kids, she put us all in the sport,” Kari said. “I have four other siblings — two brothers and two sisters — who are all older and started gymnastics before me so it was a given that I would start gymnastics and following their footsteps.”
Since her parents have taken over the gym, not only does Kari train there, but she also helps out whenever she goes home. Kari said the girls who are higher up now look to her for guidance, because they have watched her since she was still in the Junior Olympics. Even her long-time coach asks Kari to give the little ones words of encouragement. However, she hopes it won’t stop there.
Kari hopes that one day she can take her parents’ place in running the gym herself. Right now, Kari’s oldest brother runs the second gym they opened a few years ago, her second brother is an assistant coach to her long-time coach and her sister is the women’s coach.
“I definitely have that in my future, hopefully,” Kari said. “I’m getting my degree in business and communication, so I’m trying to learn about the business side of things so I can help bring new things to the table when I go back.”
MaJe’s goal for the gym is to train, progress and get athletes ready for competition. According to MaJe, some people didn’t like that, because they didn’t want their kids to be Olympians, but her philosophy is if they are going to do it, they are going do it right.
“[This sport] is a lot of politics and I’m not a politician,” MaJe said. “I’m very straightforward and if I see it, I call it. This is a very subjective sport. It’s all about connection, but I’m still standing after a dozen years.”