Born in ’52, George Michael Raines, President of GMR Gymnastics Sales (Yep! GMR…) found his passion for gymnastics at pools, trampoline parks and Lakeside High School.
An active, but shy kid, Mike practically grew up in the neighborhood pool and took to diving as a sport at age 10. Family outings to the local, in-ground trampoline park and his brother Tom’s trampolining at Briarcliff High School inspired Mike to try out for his school’s gymnastics team in the 8th grade. Mike remembers, still sounding a bit disheartened, “The coach dropped me because he wanted the older guys.”
“When I got to the 9th grade, my school didn’t have a team, as such. Guys who liked gymnastics tumbled on horse hair mats in the cafeteria after school. We did it on our own.”
“But, in the 10th grade, the team came back — The Lakeside Vikings — and this time I made it! Unfortunately, it was led by the football coach because, back then, school administrators thought anyone could coach gymnastics.”
Mike was a Lakeside Viking gymnast from the 10th grade through his senior year, when he served as team captain.
“We did floor exercise on the basketball court. No padding. No springs.”
“We had to tumble 20 miles in the snow… Ha ha. Just kidding.”
“Gymnastics has really grown along side and through demand and technology. Tumbling was not at all what you see as today as TNT on the rod floor. Every high school had a trampoline until it got dangerous and there were lawsuits. Now, they’ve taken them out.”
“When I started there were no private clubs or gyms. At my school, things were pretty basic and we were self-taught. The coaches didn’t know anything, either. We taught each other. We didn’t have YouTube and the Internet. We would watch the Olympics to learn new skills. We’d read an article or see a picture in Modern Gymnast magazine (now International Gymnast) and we’d try and figure out what to do. We looked at drawings. MG was like The Bible and we cherished it. We also went to local university meets and studied what the college gymnasts did.”
“I still remember the day we got our hands on the FIG Code of Points — ‘The Green Book’. Skills were rated A – C. (Now, they’re rated A – I). We’d read through that to learn skills and compose routines.”
“The biggest influence for me as a gymnast, then later as a coach, was my mentor Joe Gaitins (a Georgia Tech gymnast circa 1959).
He ran an evening gym club at at Dykes high school. Everyone who loved gymnastics went. Even when I got to college, I still went back in the summers because it was the only place to do the workout.”
“Joe would film the Olympics off the TV with his Super 8 camera. He had a big cache of Olympic and other gymnastics competitions and we’d all gather ‘round and watch those films over and over. That’s how we put our skills and routines together.”
To young Mike, gymnastics was life.
“In 11th grade, I had a varsity letter jacket. All my friends let their girlfriends wear theirs, and though I had a girlfriend, I wouldn’t let her wear mine. It was too precious. It was my pride and joy! One night, me and some friends were out rolling the yard of a girl I had a crush on.”
(For those who don’t know, ‘rolling’ consists of throwing rolls of toilet paper up into the branches of trees, so the paper would cascade down in long streams).
“We must have been too loud because after a bit, the flood lights came on and her parents came out. Trying not to get in trouble, I dove through the window of what we’d hoped would be our getaway car, except as I went in, my gymnastics medal came off of my letter jacket. I wouldn’t let us leave until we’d found it… so we got busted.”
“Luckily, her parents had a sense of humor and only made us clean up the mess! But, even under the threat of Parents, I was not leaving without that medal!”
(Turns out it was stuck in the car door, so much for Mike’s life of crime!)
“So yeah, we had medals and a letter jacket for gymnastics. The things we didn’t have were team uniforms. We wanted them, but the school wouldn’t pay for them. We tried to talk to the school about it, but we couldn’t get in to see the principal. So, me and the boys got together and called him from the school pay phone to ask, ‘If we paid half, would the school would pay the other half?’ Though, I was shy, I was the one to call on behalf of the team. That’s how bad we wanted those uniforms. Thankfully, our effort softened them up and we got our uniforms.”
“In the 1960’s and 70’s there was no lycra. Our uniforms were cotton — woven, not knit. Boys wore suspenders to keep their pants up. There was this constant tension between the foot and the waist. Our mothers would sew in elastic suspenders or we’d wear clip-ons. Back then, we wore long pants in everything. Now, men compete in tumbling shorts on floor and vault.”
“We also didn’t have dowel grips. Just palm guards. We wore “wick grips” which were made out of the same material used to make oil burning lamps. They were looped over the fingers, then sewn together. — Gosh that makes me sound old! In college, I wore a single buckle palm guard on my finger tips. Just that one, small buckle was all that was holding me on!”
“Meets back then were like marathons because no one had to qualify for the state meet. There were no regulations on it in those days. County and state meets would start at 9am and run ’til 11pm. Every school in my county, that had a team, would show up with the whole team and each gymnast participated in all the events.”
“There were more events for boys, too. There were your standards of today: floor exercise, pommel horse, still rings, vault, parallel bars, horizontal bar. Then, you had extra events like trampoline, tumbling, and rope climb. Rope climb is now used as gymnastics conditioning, but in those days, it was part of the competition.
In competitive rope climb, the gymnast started off in a seated, Straddle L position to ascend a 20 ft. rope in a timed race where the goal was to be the first to hit a wooden disc ‘tambourine’. These days, it’s part of the whole recreational ninja thing and it’s pretty big in Japan. Only now, the rope is 50 feet!”
Having risen, as part of his high school team, to the height of captain and becoming champion of an event he can’t remember — “This was all a very long time ago,” he adds — Mike went on to follow in his brother Tom’s footsteps by majoring in accounting, joining the same fraternity: Lambda Chi Alpha and competing in UGA gymnastics from 1970 – 1974.
“They gave me a scholarship for tuition. It was around $140 per quarter. Gosh! That makes me sound old. 140 bucks, likely, wouldn’t even buy a textbook these days. Eventually, I got books and meals added on which was worth a lot.”
“Like most gymnasts, my dream was to be in the Olympics. For a while, I think, I honestly believed I would, but then reality set in around ’72 and I saw that it was not to be.”
Even still… “The Olympics set the pace for gymnastics in those years. Back then, you had to excel in both a compulsory and your own individual routine.”
College gymnastics was comprised of only six events: floor exercise, pommel horse, still rings. vault, parallel bars and horizontal bar: run, support, swing, run, support, swing.
“I was terrible at pommel horse. It’s one of the reasons my boys team did so well in it. I couldn’t do it myself, but I’d be damned, if I wasn’t going to be good at coaching it. That’s also part of why Che, my son, ended up NCAA pommel horse champion.” Well, that and his early start on “The MushroomTM”, but we’ll get to that later…
“My best event in college was high bar. I was coached by Lee Cunningham, a great gymnast from the Penn State team in the ’50’s. He says he invented inverted giants which was my favorite high bar skill. These were the real inverts, too! The 360° shoulder dislocation version. I was one of the few in the region who could do them. I loved ‘em then, but now I can barely raise my arms above my shoulders.”
“Our UGA gymnastics team did pretty well. I won regionals in the horizontal bar my sophomore year. Went to NCAA in ’72 and ’73. Didn’t make it to NCAA in ’74, though, my senior year, when I was captain of the team.”
“After I graduated, I pretty much thought life was over: no more gymnastics! In 1975, I graduated with a degree in accounting and went to work as an accountant at The Southern Company. Thankfully, that only lasted a year. Joe Gaitins saved me from my misery when he invited me to come coach the girls in his program.”
“It was pretty good timing because right about then, The Southern Company was not so subtly suggesting I might consider other career moves. Really, my heart wasn’t in it. It was in the gym.”
So Mike liberated himself from the shackles of spreadsheets (at least ’til he started GMR) and went into coaching gymnastics.