Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Bethany Miller is assisted with a back flip by University of Georgia gymnastic athlete Kat Ding during the Georgia Gym Dogs Gymnastics Camp at the Dacula Family Sports complex in Dacula on Tuesday. Ding won the NCAA title on bars and floor and was runner-up in the all-around as a senior at UGA this spring.
DACULA -- Lithe little bodies in shiny red leotards flung themselves about under the watchful eyes of some of their idols.
University of Georgia's Kat Ding, Demetria Hunte and Mariel Box came to the Dacula Family Sports complex to teach nearly 30 girls for the first Gym Dogs Camp this week. This is the first year for the camp, but DFS team director Lenny Avery plans to make it an annual event.
It's a rare opportunity for these girls, who range in age from 5 to 14, to learn from gymnasts who compete for one of the nation's premier programs.
"I really wanted for the girls to get a chance to actually see what it takes to be a collegiate athlete," said Avery, who orchestrated the camp after talking to Ding and Hunte at a Gym Dogs meet. "To see what the sacrifices are, how many hours they put in, knowing that you can't eat your favorite foods. And just to get a chance to see the real people, not the people on the TV screen."
Ding won the NCAA title on bars and floor and was runner-up in the all-around as a senior this spring. On Tuesday, the second day of the camp, she worked with a smaller group of more advanced Level 5 and 6 students, rotating through the stations in 45-minute intervals.
On the floor, a handful of girls flipped and tumbled with Ding calling out direction -- and correction.
"She's been correcting us a lot," Destiny Butler, 10, said with a smile.
Butler, who has been in gymnastics for three or four years, admitted to being nervous around Ding and the other Gym Dogs the first day. But she's better now. And already a better gymnast.
"It's really fun," she said. "They're pretty funny sometimes."
Hunte, who is from Alpharetta and just joined Georgia's program in January, had a small group of Level 7 girls she took through the four apparatuses and then into a studio for a dance session, a fifth element to the daily program.
"I love it," said Hunte, who used to be coached by Avery. "It's almost like they look up to you, so you want to set a good example. When I was their age, I wish I'd had that, so I love it.
"You really can tell them that as long as you keep working hard and stick with it, you'll get there."
Avery and Box had bigger groups of the youngest gymnasts, so cute and bubbly, springing from place to place. They were learning more basic elements of the sport, laying the foundation for the complicated moves executed by girls just across the room.
"What I like about the sport of gymnastics is it creates A type personalities," Avery said. "They're very goal-oriented. They can pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. Because in other sports, you have your teammates to catch you. Gymnastics is a sport versus yourself. You have to beat your own limitations."
DFS has gymnastics classes for all levels and ages. In fact, another staff member was taking four adorable but somewhat unfocused 3-year-olds through a beginners class while the camp was going on.
Sure, it was rudimentary stuff, but if they stick with it, it won't be long before they're flying through the air, too.