Belfast Telegraph

How this gymnastics teacher rebounded from catastrophe

By Mark Bain

This is the remarkable woman who has provided a springboard for hundreds of young gymnasts in Northern Ireland.

When Alison McMullan took up gymnastics as a teenager with the sole aim of learning how to do a backflip, little did she know the remarkable journey it would take her on.

The 41-year-old founded Abbey Gymnastics in Belfast back in 2000 and despite many highs and lows along the way, including the loss of her home and a financial crisis due to her passion for her career, she has since helped some 700 gymnasts.

It was in 2010 when the club almost took a fatal tumble, with planning permission refused for its base at Mallusk.

That left Alison unemployed, cost her her house, and forced her into bankruptcy.

But like all good gymnasts she bounced back on her feet to find a new home for the club she had poured her heart and soul into, and from that point on the club thrived - going on to win national awards.

And the latest reward for her dedication saw Alison named as one of SPAR People's Podium regional winners for her outstanding contribution to gymnastics in the area.

It comes with a financial boost which will help 23 of her gymnasts to travel to Austria next year to take part in the quadrennial World Gymstrada, the world's largest non-competitive event of its type.

Alison was presented with a cheque for £2,000 earlier this week and said it has come at just the right time for the club.

"We've got a really big year ahead of us," she said.

"Sometimes I do stand back in the corner of the gym and think how far I've come and where it all started."

Originally formed in Newtownabbey with a handful of kids taking part in one three-hour session each week, Abbey Gymnastics moved to Carrickfergus and then Mallusk. There the club's future was called into question after being denied planning permission.

"That was a very difficult time," Alison admitted. "I wanted to turn our venue into a business but when planning was refused the club had to close.

"I was facing a rates bill of £8,000 and had no way to pay it. I was unemployed, had no money and lost my house as a result."

But there was no giving up. The club is now based at Argyll Business Centre off North Howard Street in Belfast, after a temporary stay in borrowed premises from New Life City Church.

And from September the club will be operating seven days a week to cope with demand.

More than £20,000 has been spent on new equipment, more than half that sum raised by parents of club members.

Alison said that seeing her girls representing GB at next July's World Gymstrada will be the biggest achievement yet.

"It means everything for us to be recognised on the world stage," she said. "It will cost just over £1,000 to take each girl over there so we'll have a good bit of fundraising to do."

Northern Irish hurdler Megan Marrs presented Alison with her cash prize and hailed the work she has put in over almost two decades.

"Everyone needs that inspiring coach to get them started and involved in the sport and Alison is one of those," she said.

Belfast Telegraph

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