Competing on a gymnastics team in Howard County involves practicing six days a week and long hours of traveling.

For many of the area girls, this is too much. They want to compete, but they don't want todedicate their entire lives to gymnastics.

But as of July 1, an alternative exists -- Columbia Gymnastics.

The non-profit organization will offer recreational classes in the fall. It already has a competitive team with 35 girls and an exhibition team with 12 girls.

"Our philosophy is that the girls love gymnastics, but they also have a life outside gymnastics," said Hope Grove, whose 12-year-old daughter, Alexis, is on the competitive team.

"We wanted to offer that alternative."

The exhibition squad will put on shows at nursing homes and elementary schools starting in the fall, Grove said. Recreational classes will run the gamut from creative movement to upper-level gymnastics.

Girls who enroll can be anywhere from 2 years old to high school age. Each class will run 1 1/2 hours.

The girls on the competitive squad are members of the U.S. Gymnastics Federation, which sanctions the 8-to-10 meets the club will participate in between October and March 1992.

The team will compete in Maryland, Virginia and southern Pennsylvania.

In 1992, Columbia Gymnastics is hoping to play host to a meet, inviting six clubsfrom Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania. Bob Grove, Alexis' father and the group's treasurer, said the club hopes to expand the team's meet schedule for the 1992-1993 season by traveling to North Carolina,South Carolina and Florida.

Getting the organization going was quite a chore. The group was able to rent an old warehouse from the Rouse Co., but only on the condition that its members renovated it.

The organization turned the old warehouse, which had sat empty on Route 108 in Columbia for two years, into a modern gymnastics training facility.

"We literally turned an unused warehouse into a full, functioning gymnastics club in a month," Hope Grove said.

"People werewilling to do anything or try anything to get the facility open."

Approximately 60 parents and some of the team members, all volunteers, worked seven days a week last month raising and relocating light fixtures, cleaning, carpeting and painting the 9,000-square-foot space.

In addition, the volunteers cut an 8-foot-high by 32-foot-wide hole in the warehouse wall for a parents' viewing area.

"The place had to be cleaned," Bob Grove said. "It was dirty and dusty. The bathrooms were filthy."

Several of the girls had been working out at Simply Gymnastics in Columbia, which offered the same type of classes and teams as Columbia Gymnastics.

But Simply Gymnastics closed thefirst week in June, and the girls had to find a new place to practice.

"When the parents learned that our former gym was going out of business, then we decided to open our own gym," said Lisa Lowe, president of Columbia Gymnastics. "We came across a facility that had a good location and price."

The organization used approximately 25 percent of the equipment from Simply Gymnastics for the training facility. The remainder was bought from a gym going out of business in Oklahoma.

A friend of one of the parents involved in the organization flew out West, rented a truck and brought the equipment back to Maryland.

"We had people putting in 12 volunteer hours a day," Lowe said.

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