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"Aim High Academy combines FITNESS and FAITH to help build bright FUTURES in urban children and youth from the North Tulsa community and beyond."
By Becky Tiernan World Staff Writer on Dec 2, 1996
Coaching Gymnasts, Firms
Twenty years ago, Linda Bradshaw faced a sink-or-swim business situation.
She bobbed a few times, but soon began kicking, moving forward slowly. The farther she went, the stronger her stroke became.
Today, Bradshaw is a champion swimmer. The business she kept afloat, Tulsa World of Gymnastics, is thriving. Bradshaw has even become a coach to other business owners. She recently was elected to the board of directors of the Metropolitan Tulsa Chamber of Commerce.
In 1976, however, music -- not gymnastics or even "swimming" -- was her area of expertise.
"If you had told me I would host a world trial; would ever host a national training camp; that I would ever be on a first-name basis with the top people in the United States in gymnastics, I would have laughed. I knew next to nothing about the sport," she said.
Bradshaw was a musician, teaching piano from her home studio. Between lessons, she escorted her two daughters to a gymnastic program. "They loved it," Bradshaw remembered.
She liked the quality of instruction, but had reservations about the equipment and facility.
Against the advice of her banker, who warned, "Don't do it. This is insane," Bradshaw and her husband, Wayne, mortgaged their home to borrow $25,000 to purchase new gymnastic equipment and rent a facility for their daughters' coach.
The 5,400 square-foot, non- air-conditioned facility cost $500 per month to rent. And that was just the beginning of the new demands on her pocketbook.
"I didn't start this as a business," she said. "But all of a sudden, there were utilities, taxes, insurance -- all these things I hadn't anticipated."
To make matters worse, after about a year, the coach took another position.
"So, now I'm in a situation where I have a mortgage on my home. I have overhead and a three-year lease," she said. "My husband looked at me and said, `You have two choices: You sink or you swim.' I said, `I'm a good swimmer. Let's give it a try."
In The Swim
Bradshaw went to gymnastic clinics. She read books on the sport. Slowly, she began to develop her own competitive program.
"By using music and seeing where the older children need to be, I built a ladder to get there. In a few years, we had a real nice little competitive team of 9- to 11-year-olds."
In spite of the searing summer heat, enrollment grew at a rate of 200 annually. But by 1991 -- weary of the long hours -- Bradshaw reached a "burn-out stage."
It was at Houston camp run by famed Romanian (now U.S.) Olympic gymnastic coach Bela Karolyi where Bradshaw received much-needed inspiration.
Karolyi was preparing for the 1991 World Championships at that time, coaching Kim Zmeskal, Betty Okino and Kerri Strug.
"Watching him work with those kids and seeing his motivation, his dedication and his enthusiasm just motivated me," Bradshaw said.
That year, she renewed her commitment to gymnastics and vowed to make her Tulsa gym the most visible program in the United States. In order to accomplish this, a new facility and elite-quality coaches were required.
A 22,000-square-foot, fully air-conditioned building was found at 7020 E. 38th St., around the corner from her existing facility in 1991, but building codes and high costs halted the sale. A year later, the building's price had dropped, and Bradshaw began foraging for financing.
After being turned down by four separate institutions, Randy Marshall at Bank of Oklahoma introduced her to Peggy Smith.
Smith was executive director for the Small Business Capital Corp., a Small Business Administration program sponsored by the Metropolitan Tulsa Chamber of Commerce to assist small businesses with SBA loans.
With the help of Smith, Bradshaw applied for and received an SBA loan. In December 1993, Tulsa World of Gymnastics moved into its present facility.
"What this facility enabled me to do was find a coach that had the same philosophy as me for children, and to build an elite program."
Bradshaw's dream coach was Skip Crawley, former assistant coach for the University of Oklahoma women's program. She also hired OU gymnast Kerry Haynie, who had been an elite gymnast with Karolyi. Haynie has helped integrate the Romanian's techniques into Bradshaw's program.
"Since they've been here, we have not lost a state championship," said Bradshaw.
In 1995, elite coaches Crawley, Kerry Haynie-Crawley and Michael Tanner led Bradshaw's team to a seven-state regional victory.
Bradshaw no longer coaches wee ones. She leaves that to the professionals, which include her two daughters Tina Miller and Tara Isler. Today, she concentrates her efforts on the business at hand. This includes encouraging other small business owners through her work with the Tulsa chamber and bringing visitors to the city.
Bradshaw began working on the chamber's Small Business Council in 1993. Two years later, she was named the chamber's Small Business Person of the Year. She will serve as chairman of the Small Business Council.
The entrepreneur has been involved with the Special Olympics gymnastic team for eight years and is the program's state director for gymnastics.
She also has been involved in some of the sport's high-level events. In 1994, more than 100 children and coaches from throughout the United States converged upon Tulsa for the Talent Opportunity Program training camp, sponsored by Tulsa World of Gymnastics.
That year, Bradshaw was named one of the city's top five entrepreneurs by Tulsa People magazine.
The TOP training camp was held in Tulsa in 1995 and will return to the city Dec. 4-9.
"I wanted it in the city of Tulsa," Bradshaw said. "I sold Tulsa by concentrating on its central location -- less cost to travel. But we have the best gym in the United States to host this kind of event, as far as I'm concerned."
Last February, Bradshaw's gym hosted an Olympic qualifying meet at Mabee Center. "American Classic" is the first ranking of the year and a qualifying meet for the Olympic team and World Championships. The three-day event brought about 2,000 gymnasts, coaches and spectators to the Tulsa area.
In June, Mrs. B (as she is known at the gym) went to Washington for the White House Conference on Small Business. "We left behind 60 recommendations -- many that have been acted upon," she said.
Indeed, Bradshaw's "swim" seems to have put her into the perfect career lane.
"Everything is so good here now," Bradshaw said. "I feel like the doors have opened up for me to provide the right coaching staff, the right equipment, the right facility for any Tulsa gymnast to reach her dream."
The dream of one elite student may take Bradshaw's gym halfway around the world. "We have plans to be in Sydney, Australia in the year 2000," she said.
Original story link:
Aim High Main Campus • 7020 E 38th St • Tulsa, OK 74145 • 918 664-8683
Aim High North Tulsa Campus • 3740 E Admiral Pl, Tulsa, OK 74115 • 918 794-4774