The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
All-Stars land on feet after collapse
Cheer Fusion moving to a new gym after microburst destroys old home
ARCHIVE: Winds smash buildings (July 8, 2012)
BY JEFF BRANSCOME
Anika Mullins felt so comfortable in the former Cheer Fusion All-Stars gym that she occasionally showed up in pajamas.
After all, the 16-year-old was at the Spotsylvania County facility at least three days a week, sometimes just to hang out.
“Our gym was like home,” she said. Then a microburst in July destroyed the 6,868-square-foot facility off Fleming Street between Lafayette Boulevard and U.S. 1.
Part of the building collapsed while she and 25 others were inside. Practices moved to several locations—Paragon Training Center for tumbling, Strictly Ballroom for dancing, North Stafford High for cheerleading.
“I don’t feel like I’m at home,” she said.
Her mom, Jamie, interjected with a laugh: “But they’ve been very nice to us for letting us use their gym. You’re so ungrateful.”
“I’m sorry, I’m just sayin’,” Anika replied.
She and Cheer Fusion’s 59 other members will soon be moving to a new home, a 12,000-square-foot warehouse in southern Stafford.
Cheer Fusion owner Connie Allen said she recently moved salvaged equipment there—with help from parents and cheerleaders—and hopes to receive an occupancy permit by the end of the month.
The former Cheer Fusion facility is scheduled to be rebuilt, but Allen said that will take at least another eight months.
The cheerleading team’s next competition is in November.
“We can’t keep using everybody’s space because we’re imposing on them,” Allen said. She plans to stay at the new location long-term since she’s investing thousands in improvements.
Cheer Fusion lost about $70,000 in equipment, and Allen’s insurance covered $20,000. To make matters worse, she had recently paid off loans for improvements to the now-destroyed building.
“All the money I put into that building, and it’s all gone,” said Allen, who had leased the space since 2009.
Still, she’s thankful for all the support she’s received. One business, for instance, is donating a spring floor that’s 54-by-42 feet.
‘THEY’RE ALL MY KIDS’
Two cheerleading parents, Michelle Smith, 47, and Heath Mullins, 38, were critically injured in the Cheer Fusion gym collapse.
Mullins, Anika’s dad, suffered numerous injuries, including two broken vertebrae, nerve damage in his right hand, a shattered knee, a broken ankle and a torn rotator cuff.
He’ll be in a wheelchair at least until October and says he’ll never be able to run again. The Cheer Fusion family has given him a Superman-themed shirt, underwear and socks.
“I’m still beat up and in pain,” Mullins said. “It’s not great, but it is what it is.”
He said he’ll eventually need knee replacement and shoulder surgery.
He showed up to a practice at North Stafford a few weeks after he was injured. It was his first time out of the house, besides a doctor’s appointment.
“It felt great,” he said. “They’re all my kids as far as I’m concerned.”
He and his family haven’t lost their sense of humor despite all that’s happened.
Anika described her dad as “very needy.”
“It’s like I’m watching a kid,” she said. “I hope he doesn’t get mad at me for saying that.”
Smith, the other injured parent, was in Cheer Fusion’s foyer when the microburst hit, trying to make sure none of the kids went outside. She woke up on her back with a severely broken ankle. She called for the others. No one answered.
“I was like, ‘They’re all dead. I’m the only one in here,’” recalled Smith, who also suffered broken ribs, a punctured lung and a neck injury.
“It’s pretty remarkable that nobody got killed,” Mullins said.
‘BACK IN THE SWING’
The cheerleading team returned to practice about 10 days after the incident, at Paragon Training Center.
Some of the cheerleaders say they’ve lost some of their tumbling skills and are terrified of storms.
But they’re happy to be cheering again.
“I’m really grateful that we could get back in the swing of things so quickly,” said 18-year-old Nicholas Smith, Michelle’s son.
At a practice Thursday, Cheer Fusion tumbling director Stephen Young made sure things were back to business as usual.
If someone fell on his butt after a handspring, the whole team had to do push-ups.
Young, who wasn’t in the old gym when it collapsed, said he tries to keep practices structured. But he’s told the cheerleaders to let him know if something’s wrong.
“I wanted to be that kind of rock,” Young said.
Allen, Cheer Fusion’s owner, said the members are looking forward to having their own gym again.
“That’s pretty much their second family,” she said.
Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402