Lizzie Dolan's zest for life is so powerful, it's infectious.
That's a real asset when you spend a good chunk of your life working with aspiring young Mismo gymnasts. Dolan's payoff comes from watching those athletes grow and listening to grateful parents.
Lizzie's only weakness, by her own admission, is pacing herself. She earned a business degree from the University of Montana in three years while working two part-time jobs. These days she wears two hats at Mismo: Girls' team director/coach and preschool instructor.
On top of that she was recently elected USA Gymnastics Montana state chairperson. And in her spare time she trains for a marathon.
The Garden City native took a break last week to talk with the Missoulian:
Q. How did you get started in gymnastics?
A. I was about 3 and my mom actually took me to the YWCA. They must have had one panel mat or something. Then they said, ‘She actually has some talent, take her to the YMCA.' I just took a liking to it and stuck with it. I think I was able to jump into all those sports in high school (volleyball, basketball, softball, cross country) because of my gymnastics training. Even if I didn't know how to bump, set, spike, I learned it quick.
Q. You seem like a very energetic person. Is that an accurate assessment?
A. Yeah. I'm almost too ambitious because I want to help here and here and here. And I'm passionate about that and this. Then I realize it's too much. I'm learning I need to delegate, manage it out, not over-extend myself.
Q. This year Mismo had a nice breakthrough with Katie Rehbein advancing to the Level 9 Western Championship. Do you like where your girls' team is at now?
A. I think it's doing great. We realize the value of building the base of our program down to the first grade. Right now it's really big and healthy. We have all these younger kids to come up through the ranks. Our kids are pretty dedicated.
Q. Teaching preschoolers seems a lot like babysitting. Do you enjoy it?
A. I love it. I love the 3-year-olds because they're just old enough to get away from their parents and just young enough to hold on to everything you say. You can really tell they learn stuff from you.
Q. You've got summer camps coming up. How do you keep kids engaged when it's nice outside?
A. We have one big high-level camp, the Dream Team Gymnastics Camp, and that's for competitive caliber kids. Then Mismo has nine regular camps for anybody, any ability. We train them in the morning so it's nice and cool and they get done early enough to have the day to themselves. Summer is also our unofficial performance season where we tumble at Downtown Tonight and Out to Lunch and the fair. The girls love that.
Q. Who influenced you the most as an athlete?
A. The two coaches I trained under were Terry and Marsha Hamilton. I love them. They still work at Hellgate Elementary and teach there and do an after-school gymnastics class. I was with them almost more than my own parents. Then my grandpa, he was such a supporter. Whatever game or performance or meet I had my grandpa (the late Robert Adams) was there.
Q. What is typically the wall that separates those who compete and those who fall off?
A. One big obstacle is passing from Level 5 to Level 6. A lot of girls do great at Level 5 but making it to Level 6 is a lot harder because they're actually flipping off the bars, flipping on the beam, flipping on the floor and it's all backwards. It's a fear thing they have to overcome. Another wall is when they go into high school, regardless of what level they're in. They have schoolwork and social functions and sports. Some girls do great with it and some realize I'd rather have a life than be in the gym 20 hours a week.
Q. What is your favorite event?
A. It's interesting because I disliked doing beam when I was younger. I love coaching it now. It's such a mental event, all in the brain staying on those four inches of beam so high in the air.
Q. What is the most rewarding part of your job?
A. Just that the parents are so appreciative their kids are in good hands here. We have a wonderful coaching staff. We do lots of team bonding things. They're really good kids. Great values. Great ethics. They do fantastic in school. Just knowing we are contributing to make such great people is rewarding.