ROCKINGHAM — Ashton Locklear may be the most well-known gymnast that Terry Barrett has ever coached, but the number of lives positively impacted by Barrett extends beyond the one that recently returned from Rio de Janeiro.
“I used to be a gymnast for Ms. Terry about six years ago,” said former student Morgan Govan. “I learned more in seven months with Ms. Terry than I have in the six years I’ve lived in Raleigh.
“Every gym I go to, I’m always being told I’m a natural and powerful tumbler,” she continued. “And the only person I can thank for that is Ms. Terry. She has brought me a long way.”
Years before she began instructing at Physical Awareness and Gymnastics in Hamlet, Barrett had seen and done a lot.
Growing up right outside of Charlotte, Barrett was constantly told by her mother to “get up and try.” Whether it was her time as a cheerleader, a letter girl or a majorette, Barrett’s mother never encouraged her daughter to think negatively. The gymnastics coach says she was uncertain about a lot of things, but her mother’s words are what kept her going — and eventually landed her a modeling job.
“I used that and it really accelerated me in everything,” Barrett said of her mother’s optimism. “She said, ‘At least on the day you die, you will know that somewhere in your life you gave it your best shot…You’ll have no regrets.’”
The Concord native was a professional model for Alderman in High Point, did hair and modeled for Vidal Sassoon and worked as an interior designer for Ethan Allen.
When Barrett re-married and moved to Richmond County, she realized there was a need for teaching. Her love of instructing gymnastics and staying in shape led her to a few clinics, where she would develop under Paul Ziert — former University of Oklahoma gymnastics coach who trained two-time Olympic gold medalist Bart Conner.
“That was the greatest mentor that I had in gymnastics,” Barrett explained. “He thought about it the way I do. He wanted to care about the kids, and if there was a doubt in their mind or fear, he literally broke it down step by step — he didn’t just say go do it…He taught me to have patience with children and try to bring the best out of each one.”
Ashley Hill, a former student and parent of a student, would agree that Barrett has done just that.
“Ms. Terry always sees potential in every child, no matter how old they were, how in shape or who they are,” Hill said. “She could be tough at times, but the toughness pushed us to do what we thought we couldn’t do — but she knew we could.”
When Barrett started Physical Awareness and Gymnastics in her home — which had a three-quarter court gym — more than 30 years ago, all she wanted to do was inspire the children to give 100 percent in whatever they would choose to do in life.
Yes, winning a combined 131 state, regional and national titles since 2004 is a major accomplishment.
Yes, being able to say that she coached Locklear — a world champion and 2016 Olympic alternate — for over a decade makes her proud.
But those things are not as important as building character and bringing positive energy.
“My thing has always been, and will always be, helping kids to grow wings and learn to fly independently — whether they do gymnastics well or not,” Barrett said. “Just find their nook. If I can give them a footing, I have done such a thing for them to motivate them and give them strength and willpower to go on.”
Some of Barrett’s former students have gone on to become college and professional cheerleaders, serve as head coach of North Carolina A&T’s cheerleading team, open up gyms in various cities and more.
“My gym has always been about making better people, not better gymnasts,” Barrett added.
One of her current students, Jayana Nicholson, credits Barrett with helping her become the person she is today.
“Without Ms. Terry, I wouldn’t have accomplished my goals,” Nicholson explained. “She is my role model, my teacher and a great friend. She encourages me to own a business in the future, so I can teach all those kids all the amazing skills and lessons I learned from being with her.”
Nicholson was one of the seven gymnasts — along with Katie Butler, Brittney Bowersock, Addison Johnson, Lindsay Locklear, Megan McColl and Kinsley Shepherd — who were state champions for Barrett’s team this year.
“If there’s anything said about me when I die, it’s that I really cared about what these kids do,” Barrett said. “I just want to know that I contributed — that I was a positive instead of a negative.”
Reach sports editor Leon Hargrove Jr. at 910-817-2673 and follow the sports section on Twitter @RCDailySports.
Pictured above, in the front row, are Jaelyn Goebel, Addison Johnson and Jaia McCall. Kinsley Shepherd is the lone gymnast in the middle, while Megan McColl, Katie Butler and Brittany Bowersock line up in the back row. Not pictured are Valeria Diaz, Jayaan Nicholson, Kaylee Grant and Lindsay Locklear.
Picture above, in the first row, are Emma Altman, Sophia Garner and Jenna Gardner. Alyssa Curtis stands in the back.
Terry Barrett, far right, and Katie Butler, left, help Sophia Garner with a back handspring during the team’s practice on Tuesday, Aug. 23. Barrett has been coaching at Physical Awareness for more than three decades.