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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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Natalia Klimouk, the head coach of North Shore Rhythmics, encourages a young gymnast.

 

There’s something else, though, that has established the North Shore as rhythmic’s U.S. hub: the parents.

“Let’s say that not everyone in other parts of the country has been so aggressive about finding opportunities for their kids to compete,” says Natalie Stacker, the president of North Shore Rhythmics’ parents’ association. “Some of us just have a little more marketing savvy, I guess.”

Stacker’s daughter, Brenann, a high-ranked competitor and longtime national team member, retired from the sport last year and is now a student at Tufts University. Stacker believes her daughter’s rhythmic experience helped when she applied to colleges. “She sent college-colored ribbons to the admissions officers with instructions on how to use them,” Stacker says. “She got in everywhere she applied.”

Unlike, say, soccer, the relatively small pond that is rhythmic gymnastics in the United States allows girls who might not be obviously gifted athletes to compete at high levels. With the right coaching and the drive to practice five to six hours a day, a spirited and determined young woman has a decent chance of making it into the sport’s elite national ranks.

“When I talk to the Russian coaches,” Klimouk says, “they say they love to watch the American kids because they might not be as talented as the Russian girls, but, seeing them, you see how much average kids can really do.” The sport’s reigning national champion, Lisa Wang of Buffalo Grove, is such an example, Klimouk says. “Lisa, naturally, is not that talented,” Klimouk says bluntly, an assessment belied by the balletic grace and mind-blowing flexibility Wang demonstrates when she performs, “but she made her body like this; she made herself a champion.”

 

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