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Balancing act



Lori Dillon and Lynnett Baumker

Friends from high school days at Fort Pierce Central, co-owners Lori Dillon and Lynnett Baumker combine work and play at their Port St. Lucie gym, All-Around Gymnastics. ROB DOWNEY PHOTO

Gym owners combine longtime friendship with love of gymnastics

BY PATTIE DURHAM

They met on the campus of the old Fort Pierce Central High School; two blonde teenagers, one tall, the other petite. From the very beginning they discovered they had a kindred spirit, with lots of joie de vie and plenty of kinetic energy at the core of their relationship. They quickly became BFFs, a partnership that has lasted and not lost any of its cohesiveness over the years.

Thirty years after that high school friendship, Lori Sligh Dillon and Lynnett Merritt Baumker are not only still best friends, they are also partners in All-Around Gymnastics in Port St. Lucie.

“We were always the girls flipping around and hanging upside down,” Dillon says of their high school years. Although they were not on the cheerleading squad, the two were definitely into back flips. Baumker competed in gymnastics through the former YMCA of St. Lucie County and Dillon participated in recreational gymnastics during her childhood; in high school, both had all the right moves.

Baumker started volunteering with the gymnastics program at 14 and during her high school years, was hired part time to work with the gymnastics students. She helped her best friend get a part-time job at the Y as well. The two worked together helping to train young gymnasts.

“I can hardly remember a time that I wasn’t coaching gymnastics,” Baumker says.

They both worked part-time at Sears in the Orange Blossom Mall during their high school years. Baumker worked in what they called the HIPS booth (home improvement area) and Dillon worked in the lawn and garden area.

“We were right across the aisle from each other,” says Dillon. “When things were quiet, we could meet near the aisle and chat with each other.”

“Remember when we all used to meet at your HIPS booth?” asks Dillon with a laugh. Baumker nods and starts naming off all of their co-workers there. “It was a lot of fun,” Dillon says.

Both country girls, they joined the Future Farmers of America (FFA) chapter at Central and began raising animals for the St. Lucie County Fair competition. Baumker is a great-granddaughter of former St. Lucie County Sheriff J.R. Merritt, famous for the 1924 capture of the Ashley Gang, a group of bank robbers who terrorized citizens all along the Treasure Coast in the 1920s. While not a St. Lucie County native, Dillon lived in rural St. Lucie County and raised both steers and swine as part of FFA; Baumker raised steers.

The two laugh as they remember having to take a bus to Fort Pierce Westwood High School for their FFA classes and activities after Central closed its program. The two still drive big pickup trucks. “You can’t take the country out of the girl,” Dillon quips.

After high school, the two attended college classes and their lives went in different directions as Dillon moved to Hawaii at age 21. She continued with gymnastics in the island state, eventually opening her own gym. With an educational background involving special needs children, Dillon incorporated working with special needs students in her gymnastics gym in Hawaii. Her son, Kainalu (shortened to Nalu), was born there. His name, given to him by his Hawaiian godmother, means ocean waves. Although he moved to St. Lucie County with his mother when she sold her gym in 2003, he has returned to his birthplace.

Baumker, meanwhile, married Danny Baumker and worked at Coggin-O’Steen Motors until she gave birth to a daughter, Kayla. “The only time I wasn’t coaching gymnastics was right before my daughter was born,” Baumker says, adding that after Kayla’s birth, she was approached to assist a friend in opening a new gym.

In 1992, All-Around Gymnastics was formed in Palm City. After outgrowing that facility, All-Around Gymnastics moved to Holbrooke Court in the Village Green Drive area of Port St. Lucie. Baumker managed the gym for 16 years for a private investor.

“I can hardly believe we are coming up on 20 years in this location,” Baumker says.

After her return to Florida, Dillon renewed her friendship with Baumker as she began work in the special-needs field. She decided to pursue a master’s degree in applied behavioral analysis through Nova Southeastern University, and completed an internship at the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne.

She says she worked in that career for about four years and then, in 2013, Baumker approached her about the two of them becoming partners in the gym as the investor wanted to sell the business. Dillon says she didn’t have to think twice about the offer and decided to do it. She has never looked back.

“We just have always gotten along so well together,” she says of her relationship with Baumker. “I have had other girlfriends and there always seems to be times that you have a disagreement and times get difficult. I have never had that with Lynnett. In all these years we have been friends, we have never had a disagreement. We complement one another. If she is struggling with something, I just slide in and help the situation and she does the same with me.

“I love working with Lynnett and I still get to do the classes with my special-needs kids. That is my educational background and what I love to do,” she says.

All-Around Gymnastics has recreational and competitive gymnasts aged 18 months and older. Both Dillon and Baumker have had to travel to meets over the years with their competitive gymnasts. They mostly compete in the south- to mid-Florida area, but have traveled as far as north Florida if a state meet is scheduled there. They have been out of the state to regional tournaments when one of their gymnasts has advanced.

Currently, they have a young gymnast who won her competition at the state level and also placed first at the eight-state regional competition. The two friends spend most of their time managing the gym and have a qualified coaching staff to deal with the recreational students, camps and competitive gymnasts. Dillon still has the opportunity to work with her special-needs students.

In addition to gymnastics, All-Around also offers after-school and summer camps at the gym. Dillon adds that in addition to assisting with the coaching they manage the facility and a staff of about a dozen employees. During the summer season, their work weeks can stretch to 60 hours per week. That is a challenging part of the job. They have a bus and van they use for the camps. Baumker is quick to add, “But I don’t have the license to drive that bus.”

For more information, visit www.allaroundgymnasticsacademy.us or call 772.337.3000.