Next year will mark the 25-year anniversary of the Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics Foundation, which is headquartered in Harlem. Over the years, the foundation has provided free and low-cost gymnastics and tumbling to over 20,000 kids in New York City. Hilliard, the first Black woman to represent the U.S. in rhythmic gymnastics at the Olympics, has based the training at public spaces such as the Harlem Armory to contain costs and serve as many kids as possible.

COVID-19 forced those venues to close, but Hilliard has tried to keep kids moving as much as possible by conducting Zoom classes until the end of June.

In August, the Armory Track in Washington Heights allowed a small number of gymnasts to come in and train. Hilliard brought the competitive team kids. “We’ve got a couple of our mats at the Armory, and the rhythmic girls were fine there,” said Hilliard. “Some of the artistic kids went to a gym in Queens to get on the equipment.

“A lot of gymnastics is conditioning and in rhythmic it’s conditioning and stretching,” she added. “I will say my team kids were able to stay in pretty good overall physical condition, but you’ve got to get on the equipment.”

No reopening date has been set for the Harlem Armory. In 2016, Hilliard expanded her foundation’s programs to Detroit, and that was also displaced due to COVID-19. In a normal school year, the foundation serves about 1,500 kinds in New York City and 800 in Detroit. She is planning to resume Zoom classes this month.

“To keep us going until we can get on site,” said Hilliard. “My coaches have done a remarkable job on Zoom. The kids enjoy the Zoom classes. They like putting on their leotards, seeing their coaches, doing their routines.”

Hilliard also partnered with the NYC Department of Education, providing two gymnastics fitness videos that reached approximately 1.1 million students. “It went to kids who were doing remote learning,” said Hilliard. “I did one video and we had another video with my coaches and some of the team kids that go to public school.”

She and the coaches miss the kids and the kids miss them, but they understand patience is essential. Weather permitting, there may be some outdoor classes. There is also Zoom.

“It’s important for them to stay active,” Hilliard said. “We’re committed to our service. We’re going to do community Zoom classes. We’ve been able to introduce gymnastics to a lot more people.”