Transforming a cultural mountain from the Ground Up PDF Print E-mail
Sunday, 12 August 2012 00:00

The 2012 Olympic Games have had many inspiring stories in an article written by inspirational writer Os Hillman ( One of those was 16 year old gymnast Gabby Douglas who made history with her gold medal winning all-around performance and team gold medal winning performance. She commented after her win: "And I give all the glory to God. It's kind of a win-win situation. The glory goes up to Him and the blessings fall down on me," she said.

I was awed by Douglas statement when I read it. For I believe that God truly created us for His glory and that He will never leave or forsake us.

Hillman in the same article pondered on Douglas success and recalled another inspiring story that took place in 1996 by a little known change agent mom who may have laid the foundation for the 2012 U.S. Olympic team. Rarely do, he wrote, can we find a story that so demonstrates what it means to influence a cultural mountain as the story of Lynne Ruhl.

In the early eighties Lynne’s seven-year old daughter participated in gymnastics, just as most American children do at one time or another. However, Lynne's daughter showed particular promise, according to some competitive gymnastics coaches. She was invited to put her daughter in a competitive gymnastics program that would require her to train for eleven hours a week.

Lynne's first thought was, "I need to get to know anyone who is going to have eleven hours of my daughter's life each week." So she visited with the gym that wanted her to participate. What she found deeply disturbed her. She learned that the environment of competitive gymnastics was so damaging to young girls that she could not let her daughter participate. The girls were ridiculed, shamed, and treated like robots.

(Since this process seems similar to fraternity hazing and police or military training, I wonder if this could be one of the reasons why instead of producing well-behaved recruits they bring out the monsters within the members of their organization.)

The environment fostered very negative and competitive attitudes between the gymnasts, Lynnee sadly noted. She hunted for other gyms that did not model such a culture. However, she could not find one. Her only answer was to buy a gym. After consulting with her husband, they found a gym that they felt they could purchase. It was in disrepair, but they felt it was the one they were to buy. However, something happened just before she was to finalize the deal that prevented the purchase. This led to her being retained to develop the culture within the very gym they felt they were to be involved with. While at the time this was seen as a devastating roadblock, it was a divine interruption to her plans.

Lynne identified a trainer named Mary Lee Tracy who she felt could understand and implement a healthy culture that valued the girls and built up their self-esteem. Lynne prayed with the girls and invested into their lives emotionally and spiritually. She developed a detailed program for the girls. Mary Lee Tracy was not a follower of Christ at the time and "sort of put up with me," as Lynne says. However, the tragic death of Lynne's brother led to Mary Lee, along with fifteen others, accepting Christ at the funeral. Mary Lee would now not only embrace the emotional but also the spiritual culture Lynne was creating for the Cincinnati Gymnastics Academy.

It took six full years before culture changed for the now two hundred girls who were enrolled in her training program. The real evidence that they not only changed a culture but were also extremely successful as a result was two of their girls-Amanda Borden and Jaycie Phelps-making the 1996 US Olympic Women Gymnastics team and winning the gold medal for team combined exercises for the United States, the first ever for a US Women's Olympic gymnastics program. Other members of that team were Amy Chow, Dominique Dawes, Shannon Miller, Dominique Moceanu, Jaycie Phelps and Kerri Strug. Millions around the world witnessed the U.S. Team's outstanding performance to clinch the team gold medal, outscoring Russia and Romania.

The notoriety and news value that this created put Lynne's gym on the national map for Olympic gymnast's training. She would be called upon to speak and explain why changing the culture in training young girls was so vital, primarily for the health of the girls but also to lead to a successful program. The Olympic trainers listened, and Cincinnati Gymnastics Academy became a model for training Olympic gymnasts.  Tracy’s philosophy for her gym and her life: "We teach gymnastics through Loving Discipline while Serving and Enriching the lives of others." It all began when a mom said, "This is not acceptable."

Truly, Lynne and her team had transformed a cultural mountain in a highly developed and competitive industry. With deep reflection on this story, I agree with Hillman further that we can have a better society today when we let high moral values rule us instead of greed that tends to corrupt and degrade our humanity.  Our selfish greed for fame, power and  material wealth separates us from God or Allah. It brings us down.

By Dante Corteza