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Hoop Dreams

North Shore Rhythmics, based in Glenview, is the home base of some of the country’s most elite athletes. Its head coach, Natalia Klimouk, is a star in her field. So why has no one heard of it? As rhythmic gymnastics struggles to overcome invisibility, one local team strives for the ultimate validation.

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Much of this success can be attributed to Klimouk herself, who came to the United States in 1994 from Belarus, where she was a coach for the national team. She is the kind of coach, considered rhythmic’s Bela Karolyi, who seems able to find something special in every girl she coaches.

But the North Shore’s status as the center of the U.S. rhythmic community predates Klimouk’s arrival. Since 1990, when Hunt herself, a Winnetka native and New Trier graduate, was junior national champion, the North Shore suburbs have been home to at least one champion or national team member (the first- through fourth-ranked gymnasts) every year, usually more. At last year’s national championships, 12 of 44 individual competitors hailed from Chicago’s northern suburbs.

“In the cities where there were strong communities of Eastern Europeans, there were strong rhythmic communities,” says Hunt, mentioning New York and Los Angeles, each home to six rhythmic clubs. She adds, however, that Chicago, with only four clubs—three in the northern suburbs and one in Downers Grove—dominates the national scene. The immigrant communities certainly have something to do with it, as does the affluence of the suburbs where they have settled: As a club sport, rhythmic requires most gymnasts, except the top-ranked girls, to pay all of their own training and travel expenses. The leotards worn in competitions run around $1,200 apiece.

 

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