The six girls move across the gym in a pack. They wait for the right moment, then leap with extended arms and pointed toes, as classical music blares from overhead. They clap as they finish ballet class, a warmup before hours of practice.
Their head coach, Tyana Marlowe, has been training gymnasts for 40 years, since she was 12. She has spent the last decade coaching girls at Tampa Bay Rhythmics, her own gym in Riverview.
She had planned a career in education but found herself "teaching math to people who really didn't care about math," Marlowe said. "And that was very difficult. I'm used to teaching people who have a passion for something."
Gymnasts are dedicated, she said. They make sacrifices, give up proms and homecomings. They train four to five hours a day, five to six days a week.
Along the way, they develop close relationships.
Pamela Tang used to ride to practice with her coach, because she lived right around the corner from Marlowe.
"Pretty much she's like my second mother, or actually now, I see her more than my own mother," Tang said. "She's definitely taught me a lot of life lessons, and she's helped me a lot through tough times."
Competing at age 21 means the aches and pains are worse than when Tang was younger. But Tang is pushing herself hard, Marlowe said, trying to make it to the national team one day.
In the meantime, Tang also has started coaching 6- to 10-year-olds, some of whom competed at nationals last year.
"She's developing into a great coach," Marlowe said. "She's got a career when she retires from competing."