Vince Catrambone used to get a just few hours of sleep per night.
He woke up at 3 a.m. to deliver newspapers, then moved on to his job at DHL, driving a package-delivery truck until the evening.
Then there was more driving to do – a 70-mile round-trip trek from his family home in Deptford, N. J., to Feasterville, Pa., where he would pick up his son, Joe, from gymnastics practice. Around 10:00 p.m., the two would arrive home – where dinner, and Joe’s homework, awaited.
In the gym parking lot, while he waited for practice to finish, Vince caught the few hours of sleep that would get him through the next day.
“All in all, it turned out to be good because of what Joe’s accomplished as a gymnast,” Vince said. “We got to be a part of all of it, over the years. It was all well worth it.”
Vince belongs to a small, tightly knit group: Gymnastics parents. You can find them at every Michigan men’s gymnastics meet, enthusiastically supporting their sons.
They come thousands of miles to watch the team compete, some traveling as many as 10,000 miles a season. They live and die with each routine. They know the ins and outs of the sport better than anyone outside the team.
And through their unique journeys, the parents have built strong bonds.
“Every gymnastics parent has sacrificed a fair amount to get their kids where they are,” said Connie Thompson, mother of junior Jamie Thompson. “It’s a small community. It’s not an inexpensive sport. It’s a sport that requires a tremendous amount of commitment, from the gymnasts and the parents.”
Behind most successful gymnasts are supportive, hard-working parents who often surrender as much time, or more, than their sons. Before college, good gyms are often far from home, requiring long drives to practice and meets.
And gymnastics often supersedes normal childhood events, forcing young gymnasts to miss birthday parties or cut their holidays short.
With their sons part of a large team, the parents have now formed a “team” of their own – making little vacations of road trips, staying in the same hotels, forming Michigan cheering sections at away meets and gathering for post-meet dinners.
And the closeness extends beyond just the Michigan parents.
Most of them have been involved in the gymnastics community for nearly 20 years.
“We are a close-knit family,” said Linda Rosso, junior Ralph Rosso’s mother. “I wasn’t able to go to the Windy City meet, and I had three phone calls to let me know how Ralph did – one from an Illinois team mom, one from a Minnesota team mom and one from Michigan.”
Shawn Caldwell worried she wouldn’t see her son, Kent, when he left Charlotte, N.C., to go to school. Now, she’s in her third season of traveling to most of his meets, home and away, sometimes joined by her husband and younger sons.
“I look forward to going to wherever he is, and actually look forward to winter because I get to see him more often then,” Shawn said.
Parents are privileged insiders of the distinctive gymnastics world where, thanks to its small size, fierce competitors often morph into best friends once the meet ends.
Present from the very beginning, parents see a side to the sport casual fans might miss.
“Over the 15, 20 years that Joe’s been competing, we’ve watched a lot of these kids grow up from the age of four years old,” Vince said. “You look at the progress that they’ve made from such a young age up to the college years now, and it’s remarkable how they’ve all stuck together and remained friends.”