For Good Times
It was 1979 when a young woman from Bulgaria came to the U.S. with that nation’s gymnastics team.
The venue was Dallas-Fort Worth where Dimitrina Filipova and her teammates were competing in the 1979 World Cup. It was a year before they would compete in the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, the games at which gymnast Nadia Comaneci of Romania became a household name.
“We finished sixth,” Dima Raynova, as she is now more familiarly known, said, smiling at the memory.
Sixth place captured them no medals, but, she explained, still smiling, for a small nation like Bulgaria the showing was a “big success” competing against the giants of the world, especially the heavily favored Soviet Union.
Like its larger neighbors, Bulgaria places great emphasis on physical fitness, as well as education. During her early years that meant 12-hour days that started with three hours of school, followed by three hours in the gym, another three in the classroom and back to the gym for three more.
“School is most important,” she said.
Raynova was just 7 when she took her first steps into the competitive arena of gymnastics in her native land, of which she said:
“Bulgaria is smaller than Pennsylvania. You can drive across it in five hours.”
In the years that followed, she traveled the world competing all over Europe, Asia, Mexico, Cuba, Canada and the U.S. Little did she know those travels would one day take her to a new home and a new life.
FROM COMPETING TO COACHING
Like all athletic endeavors, gymnastic take a toll on the body and the passing of years can render that a price too high to pay. When that day came for Raynova, she found another door opening, to the world of coaching. The road outside that door led her to the United Sports Academy on Reeves Street in Dunmore where she is the owner and coach.
“I fell in love with the country,” she remembers of her visit to Texas in 1979. Before long, she decided to make America her new home.
Today, she and her family — husband Emil Raynova, son Ivan and daughter Emilia — are sons and daughters of Uncle Sam and live in Montdale. Two years ago grandson Emil arrived. Just a few weeks ago the family welcomed grandson Jordan.
For the past 22 years, the United Sports Academy in Dunmore has been developing gymnasts and tumblers and sending them out to become world-class athletes.
“We have had great community support, especially Dunmore,” said Dima Raynova, and that helps to make the academy’s success possible.
This year alone, MacKenzie Black of Dunmore High, Adeline Rider of Scranton Prep and Donna Howell of Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School, are college-bound to West Virginia, Brigham Young and Penn State, respectively, on full scholarships earned through their gymnastic achievements.
In years past, colleges and universities that came knocking on the door included Rutgers, Michigan State, Cornell, Ursinus, Yale, William and Mary and Temple, all offering scholarships.
Such well-deserved recognition comes not without hard work and dedication virtually year-round, but also with the dedication and skills imparted by a staff of 25 world-class coaches headed by Raynova and including her daughter Emilia and Olympian Silvia Topalova, who was a member of the 1980 Bulgarian team with Raynova. She also competed in 1984.
HEADS LARGE STAFF
The rest of the staff includes veterans Omar Egas, Erik Elliot and Kim Huegel, each coaching there for more than 20 years, along with Brad Eisele, Michelle Mecca, Mia DeAntonio, Colleen Cammerota, Kate Healey, Gianna Muracco, Staci Gibson, Terrie Powell-Reilly, Kristin Sabatini, Liz Hobbie, Heather Woloszyn, Joe Hartnett, Shannon Hartnett, Nikki McCarthy and Clover Martinez.
Such a large staff assures plenty of one-on-one instruction and small classes for students from 18 months to 18 years of age who flock there at an average of 700 a month. In the past 22 years, gymnasts from the Dunmore-based gymnasium captured 300 state championships.
Like Raynova, Silvia Topalova traveled the world before accepting a coaching opportunity here a few years ago. For 10 years, she mentored fledgling gymnasts in Mexico before taking the helm of the Puerto Rico national team for 10 years.
Teams from the academy compete in gymnastics and tumbling at venues all over and those who truly excel advance to the Junior Olympic Program.
Every January over Martin Luther King weekend, the academy hosts the largest gymnastics competition in Northeastern Pennsylvania, so big in fact they stage it at the Kalahari Resort in Mount Pocono and expect to attract about 1,500 athletes from six states.
Plans are also underway for a new facility that will house a state-of-the-art trampoline and tumbling gym and ninja obstacles. Enrollment can be arranged by calling 570-963-5477.
Another favorite pursuit of Raynova’s is a program called Athletes Caring Together, or A.C.T. As she explained:
“Throughout the years, I’ve noticed how much of a tremendous impact sports have on young athletes around the world. Sports are invaluable but, unfortunately, not easily accessible and affordable to all children.”
That’s why about five years ago Raynova and her daughter started the nonprofit with a mission to provide a life-changing opportunity and empower athletes to make a difference through the sports they love.
Helping the mother and daughter team are two USA gymnasts, Michelle Mecca and Colleen Cammerota, who, Raynova said, are active members and a big help. Raynova serves on the A.C.T. board.
Currently, the effort focuses on children throughout Lackawanna County, but, she added, “we have dreams of growing and impacting children worldwide. We have a vision of a society that realized the importance of exercise and movement for overall well-being. We believe it should be a priority of everyday life and we will strive to make it available to every child as the foundation of a healthy, vibrant lifestyle regardless of socioeconomic backgrounds.”
This is the latest chapter in the gymnastics odyssey of Dima Raynova Filipova, on her epic journey from Bulgaria to Dunmore and myriad destinations in between. But Bulgaria will never depart her mind and heart.
Every other year, she and her family travel there to visit her parents and other kin and friends. And those in Bulgaria return the favor with vacations to the United States.
“My father really loves Disney World,” she laughed.