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RAYTOWN, Mo. — A gymnastics team in Raytown is raising the bar when it comes to diversity in the gym.

Keshia Shannon said she’s the first and only Black owner of a USA Gymnastics program in the Kansas City metro, and she knows what it takes to land a floor routine and run a business. She’s celebrating one year of Fire and Ice Athletics.

“We survived our first year,” Shannon said. “I’m ecstatic.”

Shannon started with 17 gymnasts. Now they train about 60 athletes, and 25 children are on the competitive team. 

“If you look at most gymnastics teams out here, there’s usually one or two brown girls on the competitive team. We’re the complete opposite here,” Shannon said. “We are 99% brown on the competitive team.”

Shannon said this is the first and only Black-owned gymnastics facility in the city and state. They’re also part of the group Brown Girls Do Gymnastics. The girls and their families said it means a lot to have a coach and leader who looks like them. 

“It’s awesome,” said Shannon Clifton, the dad of a gymnast.

“I’ve been in some competitions where the coaches complain about their braids or their hair. It’s a lot of hair. Well, it’s thick, it’s curly, it’s poofy, and we do funky hair styles that work for us. We have girls with dreadlocks on the team,” Shannon said. “And not saying that other gyms don’t accept it, but a lot of times you feel uncomfortable if you’re the only one in the space that looks like you.”

On the vault, bars or beam, Shannon’s goal is to lay out a space where gymnasts feel like they belong. 

“It feels like a second home,” 9-year-old Zoë Clifton said.

She likes to let her personality shine through on the floor. 

“My favorite’s vault,” Zoë said. 

Her dad Shannon Clifton believes if you can see it, you can achieve it. 

“Gymnastics or any other sport shouldn’t be any different that they can see examples that look like them,” Clifton said. “So you see Simone Biles and others with extreme success, it should be the same way in the gym.”

He played college basketball and now loves watching his daughter compete on the mat.

“It’s amazing to see her do the things that I could never do. Like I can’t do a cartwheel, but to see her do the things that she can do, it’s pretty amazing,” Clifton said. 

Shannon said Fire and Ice Athletics is about diversity and inclusion, and winning competitions come November will be icing on the cake. 

The program is throwing a celebration for the one-year anniversary on Saturday. There will be a bounce house, face-painting and performances. Shannon will also be there to answer any questions about the gym.

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