PENFIELD, N.Y. — A longtime gymnastics center in Penfield will close its doors at the start of September.

For 35 years, Sarah Jane Clifford has trained tens of thousands of gymnasts and the decision to shut down, she says, was a difficult but personal one. 

Nearly 30 years ago, Clifford built The Gymnastics Training Center of Rochester from the ground up in Penfield.

On September 3, she’ll close her business down. It’s a decision that she said didn’t come easily, citing the COVID pandemic as a big factor.

“It added some challenges to running a difficult business that is this size. During COVID, I realized family is really the most important thing you have,” said Clifford.

Clifford lost five relatives to COVID over the last few years, including her mother and sister. Much like her immediate family, Clifford said GTC brought her an extended one.

Over the years, thousands of young gymnasts have walked in and out of the doors where Clifford coached for generations. Adria LaPietra started teaching at the facility the first year it opened.

“She set the bar high. I would say most places I’ve been are not like Sarah Jane, in a good way. She set it high,” said LaPietra.

Mya Miguela has trained at GTC since she was two years old. Now at 14, she sees Clifford as her biggest influence. 

“She’s the one who got me to where I am now,” said Miguela, “The more I started coming here, the more I got excited to come here every day.”

As Clifford prepares to move on, she said she’s looking forward to spending more time with her husband, children and grandchildren. She also said she feels fortunate to have been able to carry out her life’s work. 

“My life has been giving, but yet receiving. So, the more I’ve given to the athletes, the more I’ve received,” said Clifford.

Clifford said she isn’t giving up on gymnastics. Next week, she’ll head to Florida to test for her national judging license. She’s also in search of a local space to continue coaching young athletes with special needs.