Mary Wright in Queen’s Honours List

Anna Robertsone-News, International, Women's artistic gymnastics

Today we congratulate Mary Wright who was awarded a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for her services to Gymnastics.

Mary first began her coaching career in Dunedin in 1965 before moving to Christchurch School of Gymnastics in 1969. Many of her athletes during this time won national titles with three competing in the 1973 World Championships. Hungry for more exposure to an international environment, Mary moved to the US in 1975 where she continued to train top international athletes, including US Olympians to three separate Games. Still based in the US, Mary was the coach to Olympian Courtney McGregor at Rio 2016 and coached the NZ Women’s Team at the 2017 World Championships.

Mary is not the first in her family to receive a Queen’s Honour – her brother, both parents, great grandfather and cousin have also been recognised.

In her own words, Mary takes us through her gymnastics career so far…

When I was 15 years old I was a gymnast in Dunedin, New Zealand and my mother, Rita Marlow, was my coach. I was a good gymnast but was not a great gymnast. I was a good competitor but I did not have high-level skills. I loved gymnastics with a passion but my mother knew I would not be successful at the highest level as a competitive gymnast. She channelled that love and gave me a group of 9-10-year-olds and gave me the responsibility to prepare them for National competition. Eight months later, I took them to their first national meet and they won the meet.

I was hooked. I competed in that same national meet and realized that my dream to be a world-class athlete would never happen but maybe I could become a world-class coach. I wrote down 10 goals that I wanted to achieve and systematically over the years I checked off all but one of those goals. Those goals included moving to the USA where the opportunities of becoming a knowledgeable coach were paramount to my success. At 15 years old, I didn’t really know what that meant but I knew that as soon as possible I wanted to have my own gym and train my athletes to their potential. For the next five years, I went to school and then spent my nights coaching athletes and preparing them physically and emotionally for competition.

When I was 20 years old and engaged to a student at the School of Physical Education at Otago University, an opportunity arrived for me to take over a gym in Christchurch called Christchurch School of Gymnastics, so we moved there where he enrolled in Teachers College. So in 1970, I put my education on hold as I started this new adventure. At this time in New Zealand, coaches were not paid to coach so I worked in a small shop in the mornings from 6am-3pm, then coached in the gym from 3.30pm-9.30pm. I also worked for a catering company on weekends for weddings, etc adding an additional 12-20 hours to my work week.

I helped put my husband through school, and we both worked as coaches during the afternoon and evening hours. He was a runner studying exercise physiology when we met and he quickly became a gymnastics coach.

Our facility was an old gym and we put the equipment up every day and took it down every night. Our equipment included 1 beam, 1 set if bars, 1 wooden vault, and a set of long mattress style mats on which to tumble. Our gymnasts paid 10 cents every time they came for practice and this was the rent we paid for the facility. From these humble beginnings, we prepared our athletes for national and international competition. Our girls trained hard and we coached with heart. We learned as we went and I studied every bit of film I could get my hands on. In the early 70’s, three of our athletes made it on to the New Zealand team that competed in Yugoslavia at the World Championships. My mother was the NZ coach. In Dec of 1974, a NZ team was selected to come to the USA for a month of training at select USA clubs. Scats in California with Scott Crouse, National Academy in Eugene with the Mulvihills, and teams in Seattle and Vancouver, Canada. I was selected to be the National Coach and I learned so much on that tour. I also realized that for me to meet my goals, I would need to move to the States and the sooner the better.

On September 26th, 1975 I moved to California and started my career as a coach with Kips under Jim Fountaine. I was in heaven. Jim took me under his wing and gave me every opportunity to learn in every aspect of the gymnastics spectrum. His faith in me was beyond my knowledge and I knew I would not let him down as he gave me the Elites to train on beam and floor. Within the next 12 months, Kelly Muncie made the 1976 Olympic team for Canada and Debbie Fike and Donna Turnbow competed in the USA Olympic Trials. Donna Turnbow went onto win the World Championship Trials for Strasbourg, was the 1977 Elite National Champion and twice competed in the American Cup which was then held in Madison Square Garden. I travelled with the Kips Elites to many camps, clinics and meets and the one demand I made of myself was to bleed everyone’s brain and continue to gain as much knowledge as I could.

So many people helped me along the way as I continued my journey. Early in 1979 I had the opportunity to coach at Scats with Don Peters and I decided this was a good move for me as a coach and for the next 9 years, I coached at Scats with Don and Steve Gerlach. I was so blessed to work with so many amazing athletes whose passion for gymnastics equalled mine. My obsession with details allowed me to shine in the coaching of the compulsory routines and I felt personal failure if an athlete from another team beat any of my girls on beam and floor. Fortunately, I did not feel that failure very often. I brought my kids in early 2-3 days a week before school and I worked with them on dance, floor, beam and conditioning. In 1980, two of our athletes, Luci Collins and Beth Kline, made the 1980 USA Olympic Team. Right before Olympic Trials in Jacksonville, Florida, our President made a political decision to boycott the 1980 Olympics but we continued to train and to compete in the Trials. While we were in Jacksonville preparing for Trials it became apparent that the Trials would not be supported well by the general public so the Mayor of Jacksonville went on the radio and asked the public to support the USA gymnastics trials as this would basically be our Olympics. Before the day was out, the seats to the huge arena were sold out. I love our National Anthem and have been known to sing it a little too loudly on many occasions. After the USA team marched into the arena to compete, the entire crowd of spectators stood up and sang that National Anthem so loudly and we all sang our hearts out while tears streamed down our faces. These people did not know us but they knew how hard and how many years our athletes had trained to compete in the 1980 Olympics and they were showing us how much they cared and they wanted the athletes to know that America cared and understood the sacrifices they had made to get to the Olympic Trials. That was the most moving rendition of the National Anthem I had heard to that date.

During the next four years, we had athletes compete in many international meets including 1981 and 1983 World Championships ( Tanya Service, Marie Roethlisberger, Kathy Johnson, Michelle Dusserre, Pamela Bileck, Julianne McNamara, and I was the USA coach to meets in Bulgaria, Spain, Czechoslovakia, Canada, and Mexico. I was also the USA Asst Coach for the Pan Am Games in Venezuela in 1983 where we won many medals including the Team Gold. The Pan Am team included Lucy Wener and Trina Tinti from Scats.

1984 was indeed a special year where five of the eight athletes named to the 1984 USA Olympic Team were from Scats and were coached by Don and Steve on Vault and Bars and me on Beam and Floor. And another Scats athlete (Gigi Zosa) competed for the Canadian National Team. It was so rewarding to see the USA team win the Silver Medal. I kept pinching myself as I realized THIS was the Olympic Games, and that was my athlete out there competing for the greatest country on earth. Yes, the stands were full. The pride of the American public was palpable and this little kid from New Zealand grew up to be a part of this amazing Olympic family. I felt so much pride for my athletes, not just because they were Olympians but because I knew the heart and soul, and the sacrifices and pain that they had put into their personal preparation and accomplishments. Scats athletes included Kathy Johnson, Michelle Dusserre, Pam Bileck, Marie Roethlisberger and Lucy Wener.

The next four years brought more blessings as our athletes competed in the 1985 World Championships (Sabrina Mar, Marie Roethlisberger, Pam Bileck and 1987 World Championships (Sabrina Mar and Stacey Gunthorpe) and represented the USA in many other international meets against China, USSR, France etc. these athletes included Stacey Gunthorpe, Doe Yamashiro, Sabrina Mar, Dee Dee Foster, Jennifer Barton, Kathy Budesky,
Sabrina Mar had won the Championships of the USA in 1985 and she was the only American to make finals at 1987 Worlds where she competed on floor. I was the USA head coach to a meet in Brazil where we competed against many European and Pan American countries. At the Pan American Games held in Indianapolis, Sabrina Mar was the All Around champion and Stacey Gunthorpe was part of the Gold Medal team. Leading up to the 1988 Olympic Games, Sabrina Mar, Stacey Gunthorpe and Doe Yamashiro were amongst the top 7 gymnasts in the country but injuries hampered their ability to make the 1988 Olympic team.

In 1989 I moved to Salt Lake City and coached Monica Shaw at Rocky Mountain Gymnastics in a Pan Am meet in Puerto Rico in the early 90’s.
I started Olympus gymnastics in 1993 and the Elites produced there include Deidra Graham, Taryn Apgood, Britnee Bowden, Jessica Duke, Aimee Walker, Tehani Keeno and Jacey Draper. In the mid 90’s I coached Deidra Graham and a USA team at a Pan Am meet in Monterey, Mexico. Deidra also competed for the USA in Italy in the mid 90’s.

Jessica Duke was Level 10 All Around Champion in 2000, went on to qualify Elite then competed for the University of Utah on scholarship.
Olympus has consistently been the top club in Utah and has qualified athletes to Level 10 nationals every year since 1993. We have produced over 100 state champions and numerous regional champions.

Other volunteer work and accomplishments have included:

  • I volunteered as a coach/choreographer for the University of Utah for 10 years.
  • We offered a program at Olympus for kids with Special Needs and it’s free.
  • Created the Dance Program for the JO compulsories in the early 90’s
  • I choreographed the routine for Kenny Rogers at the American Music Awards 1989
  • I worked as the USA national Team Co-Ordinator from 1989-1993 where I would travel to the clubs of the girls on the national team and work with them for 2-3 days at a time. I coached floor and beam dance (specifically compulsory routines) at all of our National Team Training Camps and clinics during this time frame.
  • After the 1988 or 1992 Olympics Jackie Fie sent me to Europe with the USA contingent to learn the compulsory floor and beam routines and I, in turn, taught these routines to all of the Elite athletes and coaches in the USA at various clinics and training camps throughout the country.
  • Since 1975 I have had 111 athletes receive college scholarships.

I feel so blessed to have been a part of the amazing sport of gymnastics since 1959, both as an athlete and as a coach. I have spent almost 50 years coaching and each day I woke up and couldn’t wait to get to the gym. My goals were always to foster a passion for gymnastics in a child, to initiate a determination to succeed, to mold an athlete emotionally, physically and academically, to allow them the opportunity to succeed, to show them that failure is all part of the learning process, to teach them the power of self discipline and able all, to fight with all of your mind and spirit to accomplish all of your goals.

Along the way, I stumbled and I fell, but I always got back up. My mantra was always if you’re going to put the time into doing something with passion then get it right…..Get it right by giving 100% in every endeavour. When I was about 15 years old, I competed in my school swimming championships and my aggregate points for all my races placed me second in the championships. I was upset and when I told my mum about it, she asked me if every stroke in every race was 100%. I thought about it for a few seconds then responded. “No”, I could have done better. She then told me to not expect 1st place and indeed, be happy with 2nd place because I really didn’t deserve to win. I was even more upset by her comments for perhaps 10 minutes, then I realized she was right. I then made a pact with myself, that never again would I lose because I didn’t give 100% all of the time.
This, I have tried to instil in my athletes. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t, but overall, these amazing athletes with whom I had the pleasure to work, worked hard, played hard, approached challenges with positivity and are now enjoying the success in life that they so truly deserve. I thank my athletes, my peers, my mentors, and my parents for allowing me to live up to their standards. I have been truly blessed and I thank God every day for the opportunities He allowed me.

 – Mary Wright, MNZM