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Grace, Anna & Halle

Welcome to the Lucas Sports Fundraising Hall of Fame!

Zoey Penny, age 8, has been practicing gymnastics at Tumble Techs in Fairfield, NJ for over three years.

In most respects, Zoey is a typical young gymnast: She practices regularly; works hard to develop strength, stamina, and flexibility; loves to perform and compete; and cherishes the camaraderie of her fellow athletes.

But there is something about Zoey that makes her distinctly different: She was born with Progeria, an extremely rare, fatal disease that causes premature aging.

Despite her condition, Zoey approaches gymnastics – and her life -- with determination, grace, and an indomitably positive spirit. She is a fixture in the gym and a source of strength for everyone around her. The Tumble Techs community has embraced Zoey, and is continually inspired by her.

When Tumble Techs partnered with Lucas Sports on a fundraising event with Laurie Hernandez, picking a charity to receive the event proceeds was a no-brainer: The Progeria Research Foundation, whose mission is to discover treatments and a cure for Progeria.

In addition, the gym earmarked a portion of the funds to purchase specialized gym equipment for Zoey.

Working out!

The opportunity to raise money to fight Progeria, help Zoey and spend a day with Laurie Hernandez galvanized the Tumble Techs gymnasts, especially sisters Grace, Halle, and Anna Schulke.

The Schulke sisters have known Zoey since she was born. While pregnant with Anna, Megan Schulke met Laura Penny, who was pregnant with Zoey, at the town pool. The two mothers-to-be hit it off immediately, bonded over their bellies and remain best friends to this day.

Anna and Zoey were born three days apart, and, like their mothers, have developed an enduring friendship. Calling them “best friends” doesn’t capture the closeness of the extremely special bond that the girls have formed; they are inseparable soul mates and each other's biggest supporters and admirers.

"The connection they have is amazing," said Megan. "They can communicate without speaking. It's incredibly special."

Grace, age 12; Halle, age 10; and Anna, age 8 are all accomplished gymnasts. ("They didn't get their ability from me," noted Megan. "I can't even do a cartwheel!") When the sisters learned that Laurie was coming to Tumble Techs, Megan said "it was like Christmas morning. They were screaming with excitement. They love Laurie, and also love Zoey and wanted to help find a cure for Progeria."

The fundraising mission instantly became a Schulke family affair. "Each of my girls wanted to be the top fundraiser. Knowing that there could be only one winner, I felt the pressure within seconds," Megan said with a laugh.

Megan huddled with her daughters to strategize about fundraising and came up with two ideas: A friendship video and a bowling fundraiser.

Friendship Video

Megan has compiled an archive of almost 200 photos of her daughters with Zoey. The girls picked their favorites, which Megan incorporated into a "friendship video." Megan shared the video on her Facebook page along with the girls' fundraising links, raising about $2,000. Her biggest challenge was equalizing the donations that each girl received. "When one of the girls needed to catch up, I copied and pasted her fundraising link."

Bowling Fundraiser

The other fundraising idea involved organizing a bowling night with a silent auction at a local bowling center. The event theme was "Strike Down Progeria." Area businesses donated a treasure trove of auction items and cash. Bowlers received a special rate for two hours of bowling with refreshments. The evening raised almost $6,000, which Megan evenly split between her daughters' fundraising accounts.

Electric Spokes, an electric bicycle store in Verona, NJ stepped up in an especially big-hearted way. In addition to donating the evening's featured auction item -- a $3,000 e-bike -- the business offered, unsolicited, to build Zoey a customized electric tricycle that she'll be able to operate by herself. "Sometimes, the most valuable thing we do is give someone the opportunity to do something they never thought possible," said Electric Spokes CEO and Board Chairman Jamie Gilson.

"When we saw the smile on Zoey's face when we discussed the possibility of her riding outside with her friends, that was all we needed," said Jaime. "We want to get Zoey on an electric vehicle so that other Progeria kids can see that such things are possible."
Left to right: Electric Spokes Co-Founder Mark Baraniak, Electric Spokes CEO Jamie Gilson, Jamie's daughter Madeleine Gilson, Electric Spokes employee Jahleel Giles, and Shop Manager Joey Rosario pose with Zoey and the $3,000 A2B Alta+ that Electric Spokes donated to the fundraiser.

Zoey's trike will be outfitted with specially engineered hand grips and brake calipers to enable proper grip and stopping ability. Electric Spokes is collaborating with special needs engineers at the University of Delaware on the design.

"Everyone was very moved by Zoey," Megan noted. "The outpouring of support from the community was amazing."

In total, the Schulke sisters raised nearly $16,000, with Anna finishing first overall, Grace third and Halle fourth!

Zoey's grandparents, aunt and uncles monitored the fundraising carefully, contributing to each girl to keep them at the top. All of the relatives shared a common objective, Megan noted: "Anna had to win. There was no other option!"

Laurie Time!

In the video below, Laurie makes a grand entrance to Tumble Techs, wearing her new favorite bracelet and with her new BFF in tow!

The girls' fundraising bounty earned each of them a variety of experiences with Laurie during her day at Tumble Tech. "I needed to make color-coded schedule for each girl," said Megan. "We were there from the second the event started until the second it ended."

"It was such a gift and an honor for them to meet their gymnastics idol. They truly absorbed every moment and will remember that day for the rest of their lives."

Anna and friends with Laurie during the "Rio Roundtable" discussion

Megan enjoyed meeting Laurie and her mother Wanda. "They are so normal, real and kind-hearted. Laurie truly is the 'Human Emoji,' with very animated facial expressions and fun, friendly and genuine emotions."

Grace said she was "really nervous about meeting Laurie because I thought I wouldn't be able to talk. When she came in, I was so happy that I started crying. And when I went to the photo booth with Laurie, I thought I was going to bawl my eyes out."

Photo booth fun with Laurie!

"But Laurie is really easy to talk to, just like a friend. She's not at all like a normal celebrity."

One of Grace's teammates performed a full gymnastics routine for Laurie, an opportunity she earned by winning a "One on One with Laurie" fundraising contest. When the teammate fell during the routine, "Laurie talked to her and encouraged her to do the routine again. Laurie said, 'Don't quit and keep going.' She stuck the routine the second time."

Grace loved her clinic with Laurie, during which she learned part of Laurie's iconic Olympic floor routine. "I've watched that routine many times. It was so exciting and fun to learn it from Laurie."

As Top 10 overall fundraisers, each of the Schulke sisters joined Laurie for lunch following the event. "The lunch was great," said Halle. "It wasn't formatted, and we could ask her anything. She asked us about ourselves, and told us about her journey to the Olympics. She told me that her favorite event was floor, and that she might go to UCLA."

During her floor clinic with Laurie, Halle "got to show her all of my tumbling skills. It was amazing to have an Olympian help me improve my skills."

"On my front handspring tuck, she told me I was whipping myself over, and that I should punch up as high as I can rather than forward. That really helped me."

"Laurie never acted like, 'Oh, I'm famous.' She has a really great personality. She's genuinely nice, sweet, kind and funny, and has a good heart."

"The whole day was truly amazing," Halle added. "I'll remember it for the rest of my life. Raising over $16,000 for Progeria and Zoey made me feel really good about myself."

The lunch with Laurie was Anna's favorite part of the day. As the gym's top overall fundraiser, Anna earned a very special place at the dining table: seated next to Laurie! "I thought it would be awkward," Anna said, "but Laurie interacted with everyone. I wasn't shy at all. She made me feel comfortable."

"She even gave us advice. She said that when she has a mental block, she will sometimes re-do her hair and get a drink. That helped me. I had a mental block while I was practicing on the low beam. I re-did my hair, got a drink, and came back and stuck it."

(Possibly portending a professional future in business marketing, Anna asked Laurie during lunch if she "supports any brands." Answer: Nike.)

Another highlight for Anna was performing a floor routine for Laurie, with Zoey. "We've been practicing for a while, and we've competed in pairs. Laurie said that our routine was amazing!"

Anna summed up her day with Laurie as "the best day in my life."

The day was a very big deal for Zoey, too. "Zoey was very talkative," Anna said. "She said, 'Oh my God I can't believe we got to meet Laurie!'"

"Zoey had a really big smile the whole day. She got to stay with Laurie and be her sidekick."

Friendship

"Zoey and I have been best friends our whole lives," Anna said. "No one can replace Zoey."

"Zoey has always been very nice and never mean," Anna added, though she conceded the girls do occasionally disagree. "They're never big arguments, they're funny. Like who's going to hide first in Hide and Seek."

Besides their love of gymnasts, Anna and Zoey share a passion for music. Here's a video clip of an on the road duet performance of their favorite song, "Perfect" by Ed Sheeran.

Zoey is extremely shy around strangers, but her sparkling eyes and bright smile are more expressive than words can possibly convey. She radiates kindness, love and gratitude, without a trace of self-consciousness. She is a small person with a giant-sized aura.

Megan is especially grateful to Tumble Techs owner Heather Cullen. "Heather is incredibly supportive of all of the gymnasts, and she has dreamed about getting an Olympian for Zoey. She has dedicated her heart and soul to raising awareness of Progeria."

Tumble Tech owners Rick Gonzalez and Heather Cullen with Zoey.

"Heather is committed to giving all of her athletes confidence and emotional, mental, and physical good health. She is a genuinely amazing person."

Tumble Techs owner Heather and Zoey's Coach Jaime, pictured here, maintain a friendly running rivalry for Zoey's affections, with each insisting the she is Zoe's favorite. Luckily, Zoey has loads of love for Heather, Jaime and everyone else in her life!

Team Zoey

To help raise money to find a cure for Progeria, Zoey's grandparents created a Team Zoey website. To honor the cause, most of the gymnasts attending the Laurie Hernandez event wore matching Team Zoey leotards.

Please consider making a donation to Team Zoey by clicking the button below. All proceeds benefit the Progeria Research Foundation.

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