ODA's Rhegan Duncombe '23 founded Gymnast to Gymnast after retiring from the sport.
When Heritage Harbour’s Rhegan Duncombe was told she should quit gymnastics in 2018 after dedicating eight years to the sport, she was heartbroken.
She had suffered ankle sprains, broken and bruised bones in her feet, detached ribs, wrist injuries and more. Despite surgery, the persistent foot and ankle injuries continued. She was 13, and her athletics career was finished.
When she stopped competing, at least at first, the Out-of-Door Academy junior was happy to have more time to spend with friends and family. But she still missed her sport.
Then in 2019, Duncombe was thinking about what she could do for her Girl Scout Gold Award project. The Gold Award is the organization's highest award and requires a member to develop a project that would impact a community.
Duncombe recalled a trip she took to visit the family of her dad, Adrian, in the Bahamas when she was 11 years old. The Duncombes visited the Nassau Nastics gym and visited the gymnasts there. She was surprised to see the tiny room and wondered whether all the gymnastics equipment would fit in a safe manner.
The gym’s floor didn’t have any bounce to help the competitors get the proper height for stunts. It didn’t have a pit filled with foam blocks for gymnasts to safely practice new tumbles and flips.
“I was a bit taken aback at the gym’s equipment,” Duncombe said. “I realized I was fortunate to have the equipment I had.”
The trip inspired Duncombe to start Gymnast to Gymnast in 2021. The nonprofit has a goal of partnering with gyms and gymnastic meets across the country to collect donated leotards, spandex, sports bras and more while also accepting financial donations. The donations will go toward helping the athletes at Nassau Nastics, Bahamas Star and Paradise Gymnastics, which are all gyms in Nassau, Bahamas.
“I wanted to see if there’s any way possible I could help out the gyms and these girls because I knew the impact gymnastics had on my life,” Duncombe said. “If I could improve anything there or help them out in any way, maybe I could impact their life.”
Duncombe’s gymnastics career began when she was in pre-K. She was a part of an after-school program in St. Louis that allowed her to learn the basics of gymnastics.
Duncombe will be the first to say she was not a natural when it came to gymnastics.
“I was not good at all,” she said with a laugh.
But she had fun, and that’s all that mattered to her.
She joined a gym in St. Louis and began to advance her skill level.
“I loved going there after school and having almost a separate life,” Duncombe said. “At first, it was just a way to get out my energy. It was something my parents didn’t think I’d be doing for long because I was really bad.”
As she advanced through the different levels in gymnastics, Duncombe continued to improve. She was solid in all the events, so she began to place high in the all-around at local and state levels.
Eventually, she hoped to compete in gymnastics at the collegiate level — targeting UCLA — but her gym didn't provide the instruction necessary to help her achieve that goal. Her family started to look into gyms across the country and saw that Aimee Boorman, who coached Olympic gymnast Simone Biles, was coaching gymnasts in Sarasota.
In the summer of 2017, the Duncombes traveled to Sarasota to visit Boorman at EVO Athletics. Boorman agreed to train her, so the family moved to Heritage Harbour.
In the year she spent at EVO Athletics, Duncombe competed in Level 9 competitions (only Level 10 and Elite are higher), including a first-place, all-around finish in a Fort Lauderdale competition in 2018. She placed first despite her constant foot and ankle injuries.
“There were definitely painful practices leading up to (the state competition),” Duncombe said. “My coaches had to be strategic with how many reps I was doing, which definitely made it tough. When I got first, I was proud of myself because, despite everything, I was still going to do this, and I had fun out there.”
Duncombe said she never became a gymnast who only cared about scores. She said that would have taken out all the fun of the sport.
Now she is focused on her nonprofit, and through that effort she still is involved in gymnastics. Her first goal was to partner with the established Atlantis Crown Invitational in the Bahamas for its meet last December. Michigan's Branch Gymnastics was a sponsor of the Atlantis Crown Invitational and also partnered with Gymnast to Gymnast to collect clothing and donations for the cause.
Duncombe traveled to Nassau in December to donate more than 140 leotards, leggings, sports bras and other apparel to Nassau Nastics.
“It was absolutely amazing to see how excited they were," said Duncombe, who stayed to watch the gymnastics compete in their new apparel.
Attending the Atlantis Crown Invitational was the first time Duncombe had been in a gym since she quit gymnastics in 2018.
“It was a little nostalgic because I remember the nerves, and I had nerves for some of the girls,” Duncombe said. “I know how hard it is being a gymnast, but in their training facilities, I know how much harder they have to work. To see them accomplish what they did, I was just so happy for them.”
Duncombe’s goal is to have 20 partners from across the country by the end of 2022. She hopes to collect between $15,000 and $30,000 to replace the Nassau Nastics gym floor, which is at least 25 years old.
“The biggest impression when I was there was the floor,” Duncombe said. “(Bad) equipment can throw off your skills so much. My goal is to eventually be able to buy different equipment for their gym so when they go to competitions, it’s not this huge transition.”
Duncombe said the new equipment and clothing will give the gymnasts confidence in themselves and will ensure the gymnasts’ safety. She said the proper tire not only is safer, but also allows a coach to see body position easily.
“Positions are so important in gymnastics," she said. "Every part of your body has to be in a certain position at the exact time or else you could end up getting injured.”
Whenever Duncombe wore a new leotard, she said it made her feel like royalty, and the boss of the gym.
“Confidence is so important in gymnastics,” she said. “You need to be confident in your ability and in your skills or else if you doubt yourself for a second in the middle of a skill that can lead to an injury.”
Although Duncombe won’t be able to compete in gymnastics at the collegiate level, she still wants to attend UCLA with hopes of being the gymnastics team’s manager. She hopes working with colleges will help expand Gymnast to Gymnast.
Source: East County Observer