Jessie and Amy Lopez have successfully done this by opening the Paducah Gymnastics Academy.
As parents to five children, they became involved in gymnastics because their kids loved it so much. They first owned a gym in Washington State. After living in Mayfield for a few years, they saw there was a market for a gymnastics business in McCracken County and opened a tiny gym on County Park Road. It did so well they approached Paducah Bank about building a larger facility on New Holt Road. We thought it was a great idea and helped to arrange financing. The new building was constructed in 2007 and enrollment has totally “flipped out.”
“We are really family-oriented here and that’s what sets us apart,” Amy explains. “All of our children work here, including our son, Jamie, who is a theatre major at Western Kentucky University. They each have extensive experience in gymnastics and are great with kids. Also, all of our adult employees have two or three kids who also take gymnastics here, so we are totally centered on the family unit.”
The Lopez girls have their own gymnastic accomplishments. The youngest, Grace, is a sophomore at Graves County and cheers for Paducah Elite All Star’s Senior 4 Team at PGA. Jazmin cheered her freshman year at the University of Louisville, and Gabriella is currently a sophomore cheering at Murray State University. Jacqui, a freshman at University of Kentucky, just made the Blue Squad, a prestigious cheering squad that has won 18 National Championships. This elite group receives full-tuition scholarships.
“It’s really hard to make the Blue Squad,” Amy says, “You have to be a really good tumbler and flyer, and also be pretty tiny. Jacqui was a level 9 gymnast and was very used to working out up to 20 hours per week, so that’s what really helped her.”
Jacqui describes the tryouts. “UK Cheer tryouts were like nothing I expected. Tryouts were set up over a four-day period. We all stunted and tumbled together, and started to get a feeling for who we wanted to try out with. At the final tryout, we had to perform a cheer, a sideline, two stunts, a standing tumbling pass, a running tumbling pass, and the fight song!”
Jacqui is one of a few freshmen who have ever made the Blue Squad. Typically, freshmen are put on the White Squad first and work their way up. Jacqui’s experience in gymnastics and competitive All Star Cheering gave her the skills and advantage needed. She has won numerous state and national championships and two national championships at UCA in Co-Ed Partner Stunts.
The Blue Squad has a grueling schedule with home and away ballgames, practice three nights a week, work out twice a week, and open gym on Sunday afternoons. All this while maintaining a 3.0 GPA for the academic scholarship and attending a three-hour study hall weekly. Jacqui says, “We protect each other and keep each other on task. We are a family. Blue Squad members function as ambassadors for the university and must represent UK well in all areas.”
The three Lopez daughters aren’t the only PGA competitors to go on to cheer collegiately. Even though PGA is a relatively new business in town, six other graduates are cheering or have cheered at universities: Nathan Cruse, UK; Josh Martin, UK; Austin West, Morehead State; Caleb Bell, UK; Katherine Smith, LSU; and Lauren Hendon, MSU.
Jessie and Amy went into the gymnastics business because of their children, but they want to keep doing this after their kids are grown. “It’s such a great sport for all kids,” Amy says. “It helps to make them stronger and have better balance, regardless of whether they ever go into competitive squad cheering or do anything with it later in life.” As the Paducah Gymnastics Academy Motto states, they are “Building fitness, self-confidence, and athletic development for all athletes!”