Kelley Durbin-Williams

Kelley Durbin-Williams

BILL SPELTZ, Missoulian

Kelley Durbin-Williams doesn't need to prove herself to anyone.

She's already done enough of that.

She bravely started her own business on a shoestring budget back in 2001, then kept Mismo Gymnastics kicking in the lean years with lots of grit. She weathered a nasty recession in 2009, staying afloat by selling her home and taking up residence -- along with her then-4-year-old daughter -- at her place of business on West Broadway in Missoula.

That same year she lost her mom.

"I went all-in a couple times with this gym," she says with a smile.

Kelley is 45 now and has piece of mind professionally and personally. She's not quite as competitive as she once was and that may actually be a good thing because, as she freely admits, she's not as obnoxious or full of herself.

Knowing how much time Durbin-Williams devotes to keeping her business going, you had to figure she'd say no when Adams Center Executive Director Brad Murphy came calling with a grand idea back in 2013.

She did say no at first. Then 18 months ago the passion for success that always simmers under the surface for this former standout gymnast started boiling again. Kelley agreed to spearhead an initiative to bring a national gymastics meet to Missoula.

"I went to our (Mismo) parents and said, 'They really want us to bid on this,'" said Durbin-Williams, who has a long history of volunteer work in Missoula. "I told the parents this will be a sacrifice. I won't be able to coach and it's hard on my company. They encouraged me, so we bid and we were thrilled."

On Friday the most important gymnastics event in Montana history will come to the Adams Center. The USA Gymnastics Level 9 Western Championships will last three days, with 450 gymnasts and 400 coaches from 23 states, including Texas, California and Colorado, converging on the Garden City. 

Valeri Liukin, development team coordinator for USA Gymnastics and father of 2008 Olympic all-around champ Nasatia Liukin, has reportedly made plans to watch the young Level 9s on Friday. They represent the future of his sport.

"For some kids this is the biggest meet they've ever been to in their lives," said Durbin-Williams of a field that includes girls ages 10-18. "For others this is the last meet of their gymnastics career."

Kelley pushed for the meet because she believes in Missoula. She will not be paid a penny and she has leveraged her business to make it happen.

The goal is to break even. She has secured support from patrons along with UM, the Missoula Tourism Business Improvement District, Destination Missoula and the Missoula Sports Commission.

But to make this thing a big success, she needs help from western Montana's sports fans. UM students will be admitted to the event free of charge with a Griz Card, but the rest of us need to dip into our pockets to take in the drama, with a $10 entry fee for kids and a $20 charge for adults. 

"I want a hometown crowd," Durbin-Williams said. "There will be a little girl from Texas who is here with one parent and one coach and that's it. If we could fill the stands and do what Missoula does so well ...

"I went to an event in Pullman (Washington) recently and the stands were empty. I looked at my coaching staff and said, 'Oh my goodness, if it's like this at the Adams Center I will lay down in the middle of the floor and start crying.'"

All weekend there will be four events held simultaneously -- the vault, bars, beam and floor. A delegation of roughly 1,400 visitors will be involved in one way or another.

Because big events like this are held in Missoula semi-regularly, most locals figure it's something that just happens with a phone call and heartfelt invitation. Not this one. Not this time.

"This really is a labor of love for my community and for this great sport of mine," Durbin-Williams said. "It matters to me that my hometown clubs from Kansas City are all going to be here with their best athletes. All these people that I've admired and respected in the sport for 40 years, they're going to be here."

For the sake of western Montana's gymnastics community and its courageous leader, here's hoping Missoula scores a perfect 10.

Bill Speltz can be reached at 523-5255 or bill.speltz@missoulian.com

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