From the delayed 2020 Summer Olympic Games to Team USA superstar gymnast Simone Biles bringing the importance of athletes’ mental health to light, the sport of gymnastics is top of mind today. Kristen Saenz, owner of Texas Dynasty Cheer & Gymnastics, has dedicated her career — and much of her life — to helping kids find a healthy athletic outlet through the sport. She talks about running her business, where she finds inspiration and what it means to be truly strong.
WACOAN: How did you first become interested in gymnastics and competitive cheer?
Saenz: I attended my first gymnastics class when I was in third grade and absolutely fell in love with the sport. I continued competitive gymnastics until the summer before my seventh grade year, when I switched to cheerleading and fell in love all over again. I cheered in middle school, high school and then at Baylor. I also briefly competed in competitive cheer for about two years in high school and then on the USA spirit teamthat competed internationally in Germany.
WACOAN: Why did you decide to pursue it as a career?
Saenz: Sometime during high school, I began a dream of be-ing a gym owner and being able to participate in the sports that I loved for a lifetime. It was far-fetched at the time, but as I progressed through Baylor, the dream became more real every year that passed. I feel extremely blessed and humbled by the fact that I get to do something that I love and I’m passionate about every day.
WACOAN: When did you start your company, Texas Dynasty?
Saenz: Texas Dynasty officially began on January 1, 2006. I had worked for the previous owner since the spring of my freshman year at Baylor in 2000 and was approached about possibly buying it and taking over when he was ready to retire.
WACOAN: In what ways has it grown and changed from then to now?
Saenz: Since our opening day, we have experienced tremen-dous growth and change over the past 15 years. We have created new pro-grams for kids to participate in, new camps and special events and integrated a lot of technology and more efficient ways to get stuff done into our daily op-erations. Probably one of the biggest changes is in our location. Our latest move to our current location was very exciting because it gave us an opportuni-ty to grow, while also being able to offer a world-class facility to our custom-ers.
WACOAN: What’s your personal mission for your busi-ness, as it relates to the kids who come to the gym each day?
Saenz: My personal goal is that Texas Dynasty can be a place where kids love to come, have fun and feel like they belong. The gym has al-ways played a huge part of my life, and I want to be able to give kids that same feeling of home that I’ve always had.
WACOAN: When I think of gymnastics, I think of strength. What is your definition of strength?
Saenz: While gymnastics does require physical strength, I feel like true strength is being able to show up each day at practice and give 100 percent. Some days are just harder than others and being able to have the mental and emotional strength to keep trying is really incredible.
WACOAN: Besides strength, what other qualities does it take to be a gymnast or athlete, in general?
Saenz: I would say that a gymnast or athlete in general needs to have a personal drive and commitment to the sport they are playing. Some practices or games are really tough, but kids that are internally driven and mo-tivated still find a way to succeed.
WACOAN: How do you believe being involved in gym-nastics and cheer benefits kids, other than physically?
Saenz: I’ve always said that the byproducts of gymnastics and cheer are just as important as the skill building. Kids create real friend-ships that last a lifetime, and it helps create a network of people that are like-minded and supportive for them.
Sport also helps kids to learn how to thrive in a structured environment. It helps them to learn to follow directions, social awareness of others, and a gen-eral sense of how to responsibly participate.
WACOAN: Talk about teamwork. How does being part of a team serve kids now and in their future lives?
Saenz: Being a part of team is a very special thing. A team gives kids a place to belong and to also learn how to work together to accom-plish a goal. I think the same can be said for their future teams they will be a part of in their life as well. All of us have learned to work within a team framework whether it be at a job, an organization or just within a family unit, like marriage, and I believe that learning good communication and teamwork skills early helps them to succeed later.
WACOAN: How do you coach athletes to achieve their goals?
Saenz: I think it’s important to coach with attainable shorter goals to reach a larger goal eventually. It helps to keep the athlete motivated by achieving success along the way to the big goal.
WACOAN: What about when they fall short?
Saenz: Falling short is hard, especially for kids that might be going through that process for the first time. I think it’s important to let ath-letes know that their worth and your love do not come from a place of achievement and that setbacks can sometimes lead to the greatest comebacks.
WACOAN: This summer, Simone Biles withdrew from multiple Olympic events to take care of her mental health. She was both sup-ported and criticized. What are your thoughts on her decision?
Saenz: I think what Simone did at the Olympics was admi-rable, and it showed that one of the greatest athletes in the sport and on the biggest stage could also struggle with her mental health. By withdrawing, she was keeping herself safe from a potential injury, and also showing the world what true responsible mental health looks like.
WACOAN: The pressure of competitive sports can be a lot for some kids. Everyone struggles at times. How do you coach your athletes to be mentally strong, but also take care of themselves when needed?
Saenz: I think competitive is relative. Yes, we all want to win, but we don’t have to win at all costs and that is important. Kids are growing, learning and watching from their coaches, and I think it’s important that we build mentally and emotionally strong kids as well as develop their athletic abilities. Winning doesn’t always equal healthy.
WACOAN: What does a typical workday look like for you? Are you teaching and coaching — or do you spend more time running the business side?
Saenz: I primarily run the business now with my husband, Daniel. My typical day starts around 7 a.m. with my morning routine. Devo-tional, workout and daily task list — emails, text, phone calls, banking, er-rands. After lunch we try to focus on our A tasks that will help move the busi-ness forward. Sometimes we are needed for smaller B or C tasks, but we always try to get a least one A task done each week.
WACOAN: What’s it like running a business with your husband? How do your work styles and strengths complement each other?
Saenz: I truly love getting the opportunity to work so closely with Daniel. We have always worked well as a team, and we see eye-to-eye on most things. Our fundamental beliefs about the gym and why we do what we do are the same, and I think that helps the dynamic stay smooth. Daniel has a very creative mind, and I tend to be more facts and numbers oriented. I think it really helps the balance of the gym.
WACOAN: Being a business owner takes a lot of time and energy. How do you balance your work life with your home life? Any tips for keeping things manageable and smooth?
Saenz: In my situation, the lines between home and work are very blurry. We try very hard to have a set ‘turn it off’ mode, where conversa-tion or tasks do not revolve around the gym. We also openly communicate when one of us needs a break from work. I will say something along the lines of ‘Hey, can we just eat lunch and pick this conversation up afterwards?’ or something that puts a short-term boundary in place.
I also love my morning routine and try to take that feeling of peace and calm with me throughout the day. It helps me to start each day with a clear head.
WACOAN: What is the most challenging thing about your job?
Saenz: Probably keeping all the balls in the air. Between the seven different departments of the gym and it being open seven days a week, things get pretty busy. Trying to tend to everyone’s needs gets challenging at times, but we have an awesome gym manager, Candace Bland, and a group of department leaders that take a lot of that day-to-day off of us. Teamwork gets the job done.
WACOAN: What is the most rewarding thing about your job?
Saenz: Walking into the gym to see and hear happy and excited kids and coaches. It makes me feel like the luckiest girl in the world.
WACOAN: Is there someone who has served as a mentor or an inspiration to you in your profession?
Saenz: The previous owner of the gym, Gordon Neal, really set a solid foundation for the gym and set it up for future success. I learned so much from him while I was working at Gymnastix Unlimited.
WACOAN: Do you have a favorite gymnast of all time?
Saenz: My favorite gymnast of all time is Shannon Miller. I loved watching her as an overall gymnast, but her beam routines were truly one of a kind. Really I loved all of the Magnificent Seven during the ’96 Olym-pics. They were such a groundbreaking team for the sport of gymnastics.
WACOAN: Do you have a personal motto or mantra or Scripture you try to live by or that is grounding for you?
Saenz: I have two. The first one is Psalm 23. I have this taped on my bathroom mirror and recite it every morning and every night.
The second one is more direct, and I use it when I can feel myself procrastinat-ing on a task or feel exhausted: JUST DON’T QUIT – But the letters ‘Just Do It’ are highlighted in a different color.
WACOAN: What passions or causes do you like to support? Any local organizations near and dear to your heart?
Saenz: I serve on the board of directors for the Junior League of Waco. It is an organization that I am passionate about and am proud of the work that we do in Waco. I have served within JLW in different capacities for the past 11 years, and it has been such a rewarding and fulfilling piece of my life.
Kristen’s 5 Must-Have Items
1. Necklace. My necklace my parents gave to me at college graduation.
2. Peloton. I love Peloton and working out to get motivated and feel ready to tackle the day’s tasks.
3. My planner.
5. Blanket. My favorite blanket for TV watching at night.