“My advice all the time is do not jump so fast, because you need to change your life,” he said. “Show me the kid first and then I’ll tell you if it’s worth it or not. The sacrifice is huge and I don’t want you to come back in two years and to blame me and say, ‘Look, you didn’t tell me that.’ I cannot promise you a gold medal. I cannot promise you anything.”
Coming to America
The odds of making it to Olympus are daunting. Nearly 100,000 girls compete in gymnastics in America. There are five spots on the national team. None of the Beijing medalists earned a return trip.
Brestyan’s has 200 girls competing on 11 teams, and the best of them are world-class. “There’s always someone you can look up to here,” said Chiarelli.
Even if a gymnast doesn’t make it to the Olympics, there’s the possibility of a free ride to college.Though a back injury sabotaged Chiarelli’s chance of making the Canadian team this year, she still got a four-year ticket to Ann Arbor and the Big 10.
During the past dozen years, more than 30 Brestyan’s gymnasts have gone on to compete at colleges ranging from Brown to Auburn to Stanford. Jannelle Minichiello and Becca Marrama are at the University of New Hampshire, and April Baker will go to Rutgers next year. “That’s the best of the American system,” said Brestyan. “In Europe you go for the national team or you don’t go anywhere. Here, you also have the medals for your life. You have that scholarship.”
By now the Brestyans don’t need to advertise, and they say they don’t recruit. “If someone comes to us from another club we call them right away to let them know, look, this kid is looking for another gym,” Brestyan said. “We try to keep a good professional relationship with everybody. “We always tell the parents, think twice before you make a decision because maybe it will not be the best choice. The program is difficult. You are princess in your gym and you will not be princess in my gym. We have a lot of other princesses here. You need to work hard like them. You will not have your own crystal box.”
For most of the ponytails in the program, the crystal box still is years away. Many of them came with their mothers when they were just out of diapers and began ascending the ladder like Kyla Gerard, a 6-year-old who now competes in Level 3. “She’s here four hours a week,” says her mother, Colleen. “She loves it.”
The Brestyans are in the gym from 8 a.m. until 9 p.m. six days a week. “Sunday, no,” said Mihai. “Even God had rest.” After the Olympics, they got away to Antigua for five days.
It was their second vacation in 15 years. Someone in a leotard always is coming through the door, and ever since one of them came back wearing a gold medal, the Metro station has been full. “We like what we’re doing,” Brestyan said, “That’s a huge advantage.”
John Powers can be reached at email@example.com.