It's hard to forget the images from the 2015 tornado that destroyed a west Tulsa gymnastics studio. Almost 100 young gymnasts were inside. They survived without a scratch and Tulsa firefighters carried each barefoot girl to safety.
It's been a rough 16 months since then, with athletes and coaches working out of small, temporary locations, but they finally have something big to celebrate.
Aim High Academy coaches love surprising their gymnasts, and on Wednesday they did just that.
The young gymnasts loaded up on a trolley and were told they were going to celebrate the 40th anniversary of another gymnastic studio.
“I wish we could all be together under one roof,” gymnast Jamarie Wilson said. “It would be nice to have a new gym.”
A new gym is what Aim High Academy gymnasts have been praying for since the tornado flipped their world upside down 16 months ago. Their prayers were answered Wednesday afternoon.
Coaches held up pieces of cardboard with a poem that ultimately welcomed them to their new home. The firefighters who saved them held a banner that said the same.
“I am so speechless, I can't even talk right now,” gymnast Sheridan Ramsey said. “It's all I could have ever asked for.”
Aim High Academy is taking over Tulsa World of Gymnastics.
“It was God's plan for this to come together,” former owner Linda Bradshaw said.
Bradshaw is selling the gym after 40 years in business. She said there’s no one better to pass the torch to than Aim High founder Jennifer Patterson.
“Tears of joy, laughter. These kids are so happy, and I couldn't be happier, that makes me happy,” Patterson said.
A $1-million donation from businessman Tom Naugle made the purchase possible, but Patterson said this is just the beginning for her faith-based non-profit.
“We want gymnastics to be available for all kids,” she said.
Patterson plans to open satellite campuses in north, east and west Tulsa, all with affordable class options.
“Regardless of income, regardless of where they live, whatever...for any kid to have that opportunity to be on a level playing field, to be able to go do gymnastics and just have the opportunity to participate in such a fabulous sport is really exciting,” Patterson said.
And it’s exciting for the gymnasts to finally be together under one roof again.
“I feel at home. I see the Olympic sign and the American flag look at the clouds and it's just like, ‘oh my gosh,’” Wilson said.
It’s a new home big enough to allow the young gymnasts to grow into even more successful athletes; a home where the sky’s the limit.
“You just have to stop and thank God because he's the one who placed us here,” Ramsey said. “I was so worried and now I have nothing to be worried about now.”
Aim High gymnasts will officially start practice Aim High Academy at Tulsa World of Gymnastics on August 22nd. Patterson expects more than 600 athletes to enroll for the fall season.
Patterson said one change they’ll be making to their new home is adding a storm shelter.
“We want all the kids here to feel safe in stormy weather, that's really important to us,” Patterson said.
Aim High’s temporary gym will stay open as a satellite campus until a permanent north Tulsa location is found.
The gym is continuing its fundraising campaign and will continue in its mission to expand and serve more children. You can donate here.