When not hanging upside down from the brown metal monkey bars on her backyard swing set, Umme Salim-Beasley was jumping on the couches and beds inside her Silver Spring, Maryland home.
As a child, Salim-Beasley was energetic, jumping from trees or running on the grass outside her childhood residence. This active nature did not escape her mother, Salma Salim, who wanted to find an outlet for her daughter.
“Even before I was introduced to gymnastics, I would be jumping around and flipping around,” Salim-Beasley said. “I didn’t have any training at all. … My parents finally realized they needed to channel this before I ended up hurting myself.”
While taking classes at the University of Maryland, Salma Salim met Chiquita Favali, who was a member of Maryland’s Gymkana—a gymnastic and acrobatic performance troupe at the university—and a gymnastic coach at Fairland Sports and Aquatics Center in Laurel, Maryland.
Seven-year-old Salim-Beasley was soon enrolled at the center and began practicing regularly. After five years at Fairland, Salim-Beasley enrolled at Hills Gymnastics in Gaithersburg, Maryland, where she was coached by Kelli Hill, a USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame member and head coach of the United States’ women’s Olympic Gymnastic team in 2000 and 2004.
“For me to be fortunate to live in an area where I could go to a club that had amazing coaches benefited me a lot, and it really helped me understand the true mechanics of the sport,” Salim-Beasley said. “I had a wonderful mentor as a coach that not only told us what to do, but showed us the mechanics and why it worked.”
Salim-Beasley was hired as the gymnastics coach April 30, 2015 after former coach Aaron Murphy was fired in March 2015 after an investigation into what the university described as “violations of athletic department policy,”
While an assistant coach at Rutgers University, Salim-Beasley received a phone call from Sherryta Freeman, the University of Pennsylvania’s senior associate athletic director for student development and former senior associate athletic director at Temple, about the position.
Salim-Beasley inquired about the opening and from the time she interviewed to being hiring, it was “four-to-five days.”
“The most important thing that stood out was the university and administration was really behind this program,” Salim-Beasley said. “A few years ago, a lot of sports were cut at Temple, and that was a big question on my mind coming into the interview was whether that was potential for the women’s program to not be around in a few years.”
Since taking over the program, Salim-Beasley, who was a gymnast at West Virginia University, has modeled her practice philosophy around her time as teacher at Eagle Cove School in Pasadena, Maryland—where she taught first, second and fifth grade.
At the beginning of the week, each gymnast receives their assignments, which are to be completed at the end of the day’s practice or by the end of the week. Assignments are graded and returned, so each gymnast can see their routine hit percentage.
“We are an organized staff,” Salim-Beasley said. “Our girls have their assignments as far as what they are supposed to do … We don’t come into practice the day of and say this is what you have to do. We give them assignments for a week, so they have time to look at the expectations.”
Salim-Beasley also gives her gymnasts feedback in a way the resembles her days at Eagle Cove School.
“She will find a way to tell you what she means but not necessarily just throw it at you,” junior all-around Briana Odom said. “Even the word changes, ‘Oh that was horrible’ compared to, ‘That wasn’t your best.’ It makes you want to work harder.”
Senior all-around Michaela Lapent said this coaching style is different than Murphy’s approach.
“She helps you get through tough times with positive coaching,” Lapent said. “It helps me keep a positive frame of mind, so if I do mess up, I know the next turn I can get up and do even better.”
Salim-Beasley’s hiring also marks the first time a woman is head coach of the program since Evelyn Hurley coached from 1976-79.
This chance has not gone unnoticed by the team.
“I think she gets the small things that come along with women’s gymnastics,” Odom said. “She’s been through it, so she can tell us things she did in her day. She can relate more.”
Michael Guise can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @Michael_Guise.