Erin Tomes traveled to St. Louis to compete in the first State Games of America in 1999. She was 17 and a gymnast. Her parents, Gene and Reggie Speer, were there to coach and cheer her on.
Tomes brought home two medals and suddenly a new family tradition began.
The Speer family has traveled and competed in each State Games since its inception, and Nebraska is next on the list.
“Even if the State Games are hosted by Alaska, our family will be there,” said Shannon Evans, daughter of Gene and Reggie. “It is an opportunity for athletes to experience competing in a national competition and be able to meet other athletes and develop friends.”
Evans is the reason the Speer family even tried gymnastics. When Evans was 3, she was diagnosed with asthma and the doctor advised her parents to put her into the sport to increase her breathing endurance. Her two sisters, Mary and Erin, eventually joined as well.
The love for the sport was immediate and it quickly became a family affair. The Speers officially opened their gym, Spirit Gymnastics, in 1993 in Ambler, Pennsylvania.
Mother Reggie runs the office, while Gene runs the gymnastics program. Mary, Erin and Evans coach and run different sections, while their children compete and take classes.
Gymnastics not only helped Evans with her asthma, but helped her find strength after being diagnosed with alopecia, an autoimmune disease that leads to hair loss. To this day, Evans still wears a bandanna while training and competing.
“I think gymnastics helped me get through the struggles and keep me strong,” she said. “I am happy that I’m able to share my strength and positivity with my children and my gymnasts.”
Spirit Gymnastics hosted the 2013 State Games, where three Speer grandchildren competed and medaled for the first time. Those same three grandchildren are looking to medal in the upcoming State Games later this month.
Evans' daughter Ava, 7, is joined by her cousins, 7-year-old Addyson (Mary’s daughter) and 6-year-old Brook (Erin’s daughter).
And while Evans said their ultimate goal is to come home with a medal, there are many other things the competitors and coaches are looking forward to.
“We love opening ceremonies,” Evans said. “They are a neat experience with the marching of athletes and the lighting of the torch. We have custom flip-flops, cut bows for their hair and custom leotards.”
The family also plans to make 11 pit stops on their trek to Nebraska.
And after the State Games, the Speer family will continue to do what they love: train and coach.
“Our favorite part about gymnastics is that you are always learning,” Evans said. “There is no limit.”