Russ Telecky took unusual route to gymnastics success

Ogden column: Former coach was 'tough' but had a big heart

Russ Telecky works with Kelli Breitbach, 8, of Cedar Rapids in his 1997 photo at the Cedar Rapids Association of Gymnastics. Telecky is in his 50th year of coaching gymnastics. (The Gazette)
Russ Telecky works with Kelli Breitbach, 8, of Cedar Rapids in his 1997 photo at the Cedar Rapids Association of Gymnastics. Telecky is in his 50th year of coaching gymnastics. (The Gazette)

For a guy who dreamed of coaching baseball, Russ Telecky turned out to be one heck of a gymnastics instructor.

While an undergraduate at the University of Northern Iowa — on a career path to teach and coach baseball — Telecky happed upon a picture of seven “skinny guys,” the first men’s gymnastics team at the school. He introduced himself to one of the gymnasts and before long, Telecky was a member the team.

“I was a poor athlete,” he said with a laugh, mentioning he was good on the pommel horse.

After two years of competing, he began what now is a 50-year love affair with gymnastics.

“Not the way I charted it out,” he said.

But the 71-year-old Telecky wouldn’t have it any other way. He still is coaching today, with his wife Kathy at the Cedar Rapids Association of Gymnastics the two founded in 1973. Last summer, a large group of his former gymnasts surprised him with a celebration, showing the former Cedar Rapids Washington High School coach how much he meant to them.

“Probably the relationships,” he said when asked what he remembers most about those days.

Telecky started coaching at Washington in the 1960s, leading the boys’ team to six state team titles and the girls to five. He coached some of the best gymnasts the state as ever produced, but, at Washington, it was all about the team.

“There was always a place on our team,” he said.

He was a taskmaster who expected his athletes to work hard, to be the best they could be. He wanted to teach them not only gymnastics skills, but life skills.

“I have regrets,” he said. “There are ways that I did things ... I wish, sometimes, I’d been kinder, gentler. But it was from the heart.”

Most, if not all, understood.

Former Washington gymnast Janet Shepherd-Meier, who helped organize the surprise reunion last summer, wrote in a community article in The Gazette last year “Telecky was not just another coach. ... He demanded excellence and he got it. He was tough and he prepared us for life’s many lessons.”

Telecky held himself to those same high standards. He, too, went to coaching seminars and soaked in all the knowledge he could to be a better coach.

“If you’re not learning, you’re falling behind,” he said.

Telecky suffered a fate not many of his contemporaries had to think about. His high school coaching days ended when the state, for liability reasons, stopped sanctioning the sport.

“That was very difficult,” he said. “It kind of came in stages.”

The first stage was the trampoline. He said one of the hardest things he’s ever done was telling Denise Buchheister she wouldn’t be able to compete for her fourth state title. He also felt bad for those athletes who only competed in gymnastics because “there wasn’t anything for them after that” at the school.

That’s the kind of coach — the kind of man — Telecky was, and still is today.

He hopes his athletes think of him as “someone who cared about them wanted what was best for them.

“I haven’t had an athlete that I didn’t enjoy working with.”

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