Aim High Academy is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization
"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 LYNN JACOBSEN World Sports Writer on Aug 7, 2000
Linda Bradshaw competes in many arenas
Linda Bradshaw enjoys living on the edge.
Actually, she thrives on it.
The 50-something entrepreneur is in her third career with no signs of slowing down. A former professional fisherman and accomplished pianist, Bradshaw turned to gymnastics in the mid- '70s when her daughters, Tina and Tara, asked to take up the sport.
Involved in numerous professional and civic organizations, Bradshaw hit the pinnacle of her current career last month when the Tulsa World of Gymnastics co- owner hosted the U.S. Classic at the ORU Mabee Center.
More than 6,000 people (5,509 paid attendance) witnessed America's 2000 Olympic hopefuls.
"I'm a gambler," Bradshaw said. "I'm not afraid to take chances. Anybody who knows me will tell you that I live on the bubble. I'm not afraid to take a risk and I have done it many times in a lot of different ways."
She's been doing things her way for more than three decades, beginning when she crashed the male-dominated sport of bass fishing. Her husband, Wayne, introduced her to the sport when the two met as teen-agers in Tulsa. Bradshaw's mother, a fiercely religious woman, refused to allow her daughter to date in the evening.
"Our dates were pretty much in the daytime and we pretty much went fishing," Bradshaw recalled.
After a seven-year courtship during high school (Tulsa Will Rogers) and college (the University of Tulsa), the two were wed.
They fished as husband and wife in several state tournaments -- and won. It only served as fuel for the fire as far as Bradshaw was concerned.
"I got so eaten up with fishing that I ended up having my own personal bass boat with my name on it," said the 1971 Oklahoma Sportswoman of the Year.
Still, Bradshaw was shunned at the major tournaments. Instead of fighting the cause, Bradshaw teamed with nine other women to form the Tulsa Bass Belles, a women-only organization that included Chris Houston, wife of Jimmy Houston, and Maryann Martin, wife of Roland Martin. Houston and Martin are both professional fishermen.
"The whole purpose was so that women could get together and fish," Bradshaw said. "We weren't allowed access into the men's tournaments."
Wayne and Linda bought a motor home and spend summers at fishing tournaments. Their children, son Ron and their daughters were raised on Oklahoma lakes.
"We'd play all day long then I'd fish at night," Bradshaw remembered.
But as the girls got older they longed to try gymnastics, not the piano, which had been Bradshaw's passion since elementary school.
"I was hoping for two little girls who would love to play the piano but that wasn't meant to be," Bradshaw said. "They loved dancing and gymnastics. Back then there wasn't a lot of formal, organized gymnastics programs. They had a tremendous love for it and I got involved with them. The next thing we knew we were supporting a tiny gym with a few little girls."
Actually, Bradshaw wasn't looking for a new endeavor, only something that would allow her to remain close to her kids.
"I never aspired for this to be a business," she said. "I have no business expertise, no marketing background. It was difficult for me because of that.
"We opened with 22 girls. For years we struggled to keep the doors open. For 17 years we didn't have air conditioning."
What she did have was a love for children. She took her music degree from TU and applied it to gymnastics.
That was 24 years ago. Today, Tulsa World of Gymnastics has more than 1,200 gymnasts -- primarily in the 2-6-year-old range. The club isn't limited to preschool and elementary gymnasts. It also has about 100 in team competition. To those enrolled Bradshaw is known simply as "Mrs. B."
Bradshaw's husband is his wife's biggest fan.
"He's my partner, he's my foundation," Bradshaw said. "He gives me strength to do everything. He lets me do anything I want to do. But he also gives me the encouragement to do it. When I get down or discouraged, he's always there to pick me up. I know no matter how tough it's going to get, he's there to give me that total support."
The gym employs seven fulltime coaches in Marc Holtensteine, Jennifer Patterson, Michael Tanner and their daughters.
By 1991, Bradshaw began to show signs of burnout. The hot summers in the non-air conditioned gym had taken its toll. Bradshaw had taught eight classes a day in the steamy conditions.
She was scheduled to take a group of girls to Houston for a camp at Bela Karolyi's gym. She had become friends with the legendary gymnastics coach five years earlier.
"I was hot, tired and overworked," Bradshaw recalled. "I wasn't sure I wanted to stay in the sport anymore. It was such a drain."
When she told Karolyi her feelings he offered some advice.
"He told me what we were doing was for the kids and that was all that mattered," Bradshaw said. "It had such an impact on me that I came home, started looking for another facility with air conditioning. I wanted to take our program to the next step."
Focused again, Bradshaw found her dream site just blocks from the old gym. Even before purchasing the property Bradshaw advertised it as the new Tulsa World of Gymnastics.
"I never thought of the possibility that it wouldn't be mine," she said, "but my kids were ready to leave town. They couldn't imagine that I would broadcast the site without purchasing it."
Another case of living on the edge.
She retired from coaching six years ago, ironically to spend more time in the business. It was about the time Bradshaw became active in civic causes.
Upon learning of the creation of the Tulsa Sports Commission in 1994, Bradshaw didn't wait for the organization to contact her. Instead, she made the first move, offering her services.
She received a call from the commission, which had received an invitation from USA Gymnastics to bid on events.
Bradshaw was in her element. She convinced the group to bid on six events including the TOPs program and the American Classic.
To everyone's surprise Tulsa was selected to host the American Classic in February 1996, months before the Summer Olympics in Atlanta.
Shortly thereafter, Gary Warren of USA Gymnastics toured Bradshaw's facility and gave his stamp of approval for the Talented Opportunity Program, basically a nationwide talent search for the top gymnasts between the ages of 9-12.
The success of the '96 Classic brought USA Gymnastics back. The organization asked her to host the more prestigious U.S. Classic when this summer. has it already happened. need a date. earlier this summer.
No one imagined, though, that the event would become so big. Five of seven members of the 1996 U.S. Olympic gold medal squad participated in the event. Amy Chow, Dominique Moceanu and Jaycie Phelps dazzled the crowd, something that particularly pleased Bradshaw.
"Just a couple of days prior to the opening we hadn't sold many tickets," she said. "I was really concerned with HBO, Fox and ESPN coming in that Tulsa might not support it. But it was awesome. The audience really got caught up in it. There was so much electricity when our local gymnasts performed."
The classic brought out Karolyi, the national coordinator for the women's 2000 team, former Olympic gold medalist Bart Conner, his wife Nadia Comaneci, a former Olympic gold medalist herself. They have their own gym in Norman.
Bradshaw was certain the event wouldn't fail. In fact, there were more in attendance in Tulsa than at last year's Classic event, something USA Gymnastics officials were quick to point out.
The organization was so enthralled with Tulsa that members asked about bringing the post-Olympic tour here if a date can be arranged.
"I think we have become a playground for USA Gymnastics," Bradshaw said.
Bradshaw credits the efforts of the other Oklahoma gyms, which pitched in to help. More than 500 state gymnasts participated in the opening ceremonies of the classic and Bradshaw even came out of retirement to coach her little ones in a post-classic performance.
USA Gymnastics has already started talking about the next Tulsa event, which they, of course, want Bradshaw to host.
"Things for me just seem to happen," she confided. "The harder I work the luckier I get."
Lynn Jacobson is a Tulsa World sports writer.
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH OF LINDA BRADSHAW
Linda Bradshaw along with her husband, Wayne, established Tulsa World of of gymnastics in 1976. The business has grown from 22 gymnasts to 1,200 students in a beautiful 22,000 square foot state-of the-art facility.
CIVIC AND BUSINESS SERVICE
*Tulsa Advocates for the Rights of Citizens with Developmental Disabilities, Board of Directors 1994-2000
* Region IV, School-to Work Coordination Council, 1995-98
* Oklahoma State Director, Special Olympics Gymnastics 1990-1999
* Tulsa Sports Commission, Board of Directors, Executive Committee, 98-00
* White House Conference on Small Business, Oklahoma Delegate 1995
* Meet Director; 1996 American Classic and 2000 U.S. Classic; USA Gymnastics Olympic qualifiers, Tulsa
* Tulsa Area United Way, chair, Small Business Division 1998-99
AWARDS AND HONORS
* Rotary CLub of Tulsa, "Tulsa Achievement Award" 1997
* Tulsa Metropolitian Chamber of Commerce "Small Business Person of the Year" 1995
* The Pearl M. and Julia J. Harmon Foundation Award Winner 1995
* Oklahoma Sportswoman of the Year, 1971
* Bass Fishing
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