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Olympic hopeful pays visit as guest instructor at Jefferson Elementary
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Olympic hopeful pays visit as guest instructor at Jefferson Elementary

When Olympic hopeful Marvin Kimble was just 9 years old, his mother caught him doing backflips off sofas, beds, TV stands — pretty much anything that he could find to put his derring-do to the test.

His mother, however, needed to find a way for her son to channel his boundless energy in a safer setting. She enrolled him in gymnastics.

Kimble, 22, of Milwaukee, has spent the last 13 years honing his craft.

Ranked second in the country, he is a member of the U.S. men’s national gymnastics team, which took gold in the 2018 Pacific Rim Championships in Medellin, Colombia, over the weekend.

On Tuesday, Kimble was the special guest instructor during physical education classes at Jefferson Elementary, where he spent time with about 90 fourt-h and fifth-graders through the “Fuel Up to Play 60” program. Jeffersonl is one of eight participating elementary schools in the Kenosha Unified School District.

“I was really hyper. Really hyper. You guys hyper?” Kimble asked a group of fourth-graders who were eager to learn some of his “tricks” of the trade.

Kimble admitted when he was younger he didn’t always like listening to his coaches and his teachers and would be in trouble. But in order to be a successful athlete, he had to make a decision.

“I decided that’s not the way to go,” he said. “I had to get better, absolutely.”

Focusing and becoming a better listener made him a better person, he said prior to helping students with somersaults, cartwheels and backflips.

Kimble demonstrated his prowess on blue mats laid out the full length of the gym floor. After a series of two-handed backflips, in which both hands landed on the mat, he performed a no-handed flip, essentially a 360-degree flip while in the air.

“Whoa!” came the reactions from students, many of whom had never seen in person what would be an every day move for skilled gymnasts.

Encourage active kids

Judy Vanderford, the school’s physical education instructor, said Jefferson has been involved with “Fuel Up to Play 60” for the last eight years. An in-school nutrition and physical activity program launched by the National Dairy Council and the NFL, it encourages students to become active and make healthy food choices.

In the state, the program is administered by the Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin, which grants funding to schools to enhance physical education opportunities.

Vanderford, for instance, recently received a grant to purchase inline skates for students to be used during gym classes.

“Anything that encourages kids to be active,” she said.

Fourth-grader Vincent Gingerelli, 10, who is a “Fuel Up to Play 60” team leader for the school, said he was amazed with Kimble’s skills and was encouraged by his words.

“He was awesome,” he said. While gymnastics isn’t Vincent’s preferred sport — he likes to play baseball, basketball and football — he said he’s motivated to stay “healthy and active.”

Faride Ayech, 10, also a team leader, said she has always wanted to participate in gymnastics. And with a little help from Kimble, Faride said she learned how to balance in a handstand position.

“I learned that you can do it even though you don’t know (at first) that you can do it,” she said. “I didn’t really know I could do that handstand until he actually helped me. Just keep trying.”

Overcoming adversity

In between classes, Kimble talked about the adversity he faced as a young gymnast and being one of the few African Americans to participate at the highest levels of the sport. He is also good friends with women’s gold medalist Simone Biles.

Like Biles, he’s currently training for the 2020 Olympics and must qualify through competition every six months to remain on the men’s national team. In February, he qualified by taking second at the national competition at the Winter Cup Challenge in Las Vegas.

“I never thought I’d be this far in gymnastics traveling all over the world. So, looking back at my younger self, there’s a lot of things I could’ve told myself. But I think anything’s possible,” he said. “I want to influence the younger kids to stay active and just do whatever is possible. I wasn’t really told I would be a gymnast when I was younger. So, it was just pushing through the people that tell you you can’t do it.”

Kimble will compete again to qualify to remain on the national team on Aug. 16-19 at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships in Boston.

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