The Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics Foundation (WHGF) proudly announces this week that the organization’s own Aries Wickham represented the United States.
On an international stage at the Pan American Maccabi Games in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The 17-year-old rhythmic gymnast, who is a Junior at Columbia Secondary School in Harlem, previously was the first athlete from Harlem to represent the United States and won team silver in Israel’s 2022 Maccabi Games.
“Our mission at the Foundation is to empower the lives of young people from our local communities and provide access into the sport of gymnastics,” said Wendy Hilliard, Founder of the Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics Foundation. “Aries continues to go above and beyond, and we can’t wait to see where her hard work and determination take her next.”
Competing over two days, Wickham brought home a silver medal with her individual routine, and a gold medal with Team USA. However, the competition meant much more to her than just the victories on the mat.
“This was one of the best experiences of my life,” said Aries Wickham. “This year, I was able to see a lot more of the other sports [at the games] and interact with a lot more of the other countries, making lifelong friends.”
Maccabi USA builds Jewish pride through sports and promotes support for Israel and Jewish continuity through athletic, educational, and cultural experiences for participants of all ages. Recognized as the Jewish Olympics, the Maccabi Games takes place all over the world as the third largest sporting event with 10,000 competitors from 80 countries taking part in 42 different sports. Previous competitions have been held in Israel, Mexico, and Hungary.
“Representing Harlem and the United States of America at international competitions is a feeling you can only understand when you get there,” said Wickham. “This is a feeling that all young gymnasts dream about: accepting your medal and having the American flag being raised beside you. Gymnastics is so much work, such a big commitment, and can be so hard, so everyone seeing what you have achieved after working hours and hours is an indescribable feeling.”
Wickham credits her successes in rhythmic gymnastics at the international level almost entirely to her experience at the Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics Foundation gym, which she calls her second home. The foundation provides free and low-cost gymnastics to over 25,000 youth aged 3 to 17 in underserved communities in both Harlem, New York and Detroit, Michigan. Whether from Wendy Hilliard herself, founder of the foundation, USA Gymnastics Hall of Famer, and the first Black athlete to represent the U.S. in international competition in rhythmic gymnastics or Former WHGF Rhythmic Gymnastics head coach Alexis Page, who she has trained with for 7 years, Wickham has learned the resilience and hard work needed to be an elite gymnast.
“When people ask me about Wendy and what Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics Foundation has done for me, I don’t really know how to put it into words,” said Wickham. “They have truly made everything I have ever been able to do possible, and I owe so much to them.”
In terms of what is next for the young athlete, she plans to get involved with gymnastics off that mat by inspiring the next generation of rhythmic gymnasts at the Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics Foundation’s Harlem Gymnastics Invitational. From February 23rd to 25th, the Foundation will host over 850 gymnasts at the Harlem Armory for a chance to become a New York City champion.
“I do plan on coaching, and I have a bunch of little kids in rhythmic and intermediate classes that [I coach that] will be competing for the first time in our Harlem Gymnastics Invitational,” said Wickham. “I am so excited to watch their reactions as they compete, to see their routines, and most of all I am excited to see them fall in love with gymnastics just like I did. I know how role models helped me and if I get to be a role model for one young girl, that is enough.”
You can watch Aries Wickham’s Open Rhythmic Gymnastics Profile on Maccabi USA’s YouTube.
Wendy & Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics Foundation (WHGF)
Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, Wendy started gymnastics at age 12. She trained through the Detroit Recreation Department with coaches from the former Soviet Union. She was the first Black athlete to represent the U.S. in international competition in rhythmic gymnastics and competed in three World Championships. In 2008, she was inducted into the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame. She was President of the Women’s Sports Foundation and coached 1996 Olympian Aliane Baquerot Wilson. Following her competitive and award-winning experience as a world-class athlete and coach, Wendy recognized the lack of gymnastic opportunities among urban youth, which inspired her to launch the Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics Foundation.
The WHGF is a pioneering, black-led organization, trailblazing the path for international gymnastic champions. As a nonprofit, its unparalleled legacy lies in offering support and opportunities to youth through gymnastics. Often likened to an “HBCU” for gymnastics, it distinguishes itself through the diversity and excellence of its staff. Moreover, it’s remarkable for introducing thousands of underserved youth to gymnastics, enabling some to achieve incredible heights in a sport typically not located in urban centers.
The Foundation serves urban youth between the ages of 3 to 17. At WHGF, young gymnasts learn about time management, responsibility, teamwork, leadership, and sustainable health habits.
For more information, please visit https://www.wendyhilliard.org/.
Photo credit: Aries Wickham.
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