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."
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!"
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."
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."
"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."