By Rabea Stueckemann
She stretches her arms above her head, takes a deep breath and closes her eyes. Turning upside down, her body forms a perfect 90-degree angle with the ground before she gracefully jumps back on her feet. “Did you see that?” 5-year-old Yael Kramerberry asks her coach excitedly. This is why Geni Morrow loves her job.
A desire to coach combined with a passion for tumbling and dance is Morrow’s formula for success. She does not only live her personal dream, but also paves the way toward self-fulfillment and happiness for many others.
“Even if there was only one kid who wanted to dance, Geni would make it happen,” remarks Erin Kelly, who started taking lessons with Morrow when she was 5 years old. “Geni created a place where kids, including myself, felt safe and loved and were able to explore movement and grow as people.”
The 59-year-old’s motivation to teach tumbling and dance always remained the same: “You can make a difference in a child.”
Her long grey hair falls loosely over her shoulder. Graceful gestures and a statuesque posture make what is a petite form stand taller than normal. It is this hint of elegance that Morrow incorporates into every aspect of her life.
For her, the sport is not limited to the athletic elite, but can bring joy into everybody’s life. “What gets me is that size, shape, form and ability don’t matter,” she says. Her enthusiasm is so big that she barely finishes a sentence before starting the next one.
Morrow’s eyes sparkle when she describes children’s excitement during practice. Seeing her students’ skills improve and self-confidence grow is why she loves her job. “There is this self-rewarding part that makes me think I am luckier than them,” she says.
Morrow’s coaching career started as an assistant for physical education in high school. Her dad was a high school football coach and her biggest inspiration. Upon entering college she helped implement a tumbling program for the YMCA in Portland, Oregon, while working toward a degree in physical education and dance.
Talking about her athletic career is the only time Morrow slows down. She remembers the day that determined her life as if it were yesterday, seeing herself on stage for the final performance at the end of the term. “It was awesome,” she begins, “but the curtain closes and people just walk away. Maybe they will remember something, but it fades over time,” she says and ponders. “With teaching, they own that experience for life.”
Morrow dropped out of college in her junior year to specialize in dance and tumbling. After working for academies in Alaska and Hawaii, she returned to Oregon in 1983. The marriage with Charlie Magee and the births of three children followed soon.
She stopped professional coaching at the National Academy of Artistic Gymnastics in Eugene when her youngest daughter began her gymnastics career. The founding of the EDGE (Elite Dance Gymnastics Exhibitions) in 1992 opened up a world outside the competitive environment.
The program became so popular that Morrow needed more space to satisfy the demand. Together with her husband, she opened the Reach Center as a Neighborhood Activity Center in 2006. Besides dance and gymnastics, it offers fitness, cooking, gardening, theater and writing classes.
The center’s name reflects Morrow’s personality. She mentions a close friend who once said: “Geni you always have something going on. You always think you can reach where you are going. Even if you don’t get there, you are still reaching.”
Today, Morrow still owns the EDGE, but does not teach anymore. She keeps herself busy running the center, assisting in classes and spreading enthusiasm.
The Reach Center is like a family. “Geni is flexible, down-to-earth and just fun to be around,” says Tree Bressen, a neighbor who occasionally teaches workshops at the Reach Center.
“There is that other thing I do,” Morrow says and laughs out loud. She produces ‘Dance for a Reason,’ a show of multiple dance styles sponsored by the EDGE. The group donates the revenue to a non-profit organization.
Morrow’s biggest challenge involves money. She explains the difficulties of opening a business in a small town when the economy is at a low point. While art and music lessons are something parents wish to be able to afford, financial restrictions might thwart their plans.
“With the overhead being bigger than the income,” Morrow says, “there is no money left for advertising.” Spreading the word by mouth makes it hard to attract customers.
However, working her dream job compensates for the struggle. She is not ready to slow down. Ideally, the center will some day be able to support itself. “If it doesn’t make it,” Morrow says, “I gave it a hell of a shot.”
If retirement in Fiji is not in sight, Morrow anticipates her future in Eugene. She hopes to see the Reach Center flourish as a place where the community gathers and shares stories.
Morrow jumps off the chair to embrace a student who enters the room. Her phone rings and somebody asks whether she organized everything for the upcoming birthday celebration. “Somebody told me that if they tried to nail my feet to the ground, I would probably leave my feet, rip myself away and run,” she says. Geni Morrow never stops reaching.