As love stories go, gym owners and power couple Kristen and Victor Rosario have one that’s straight out of a Nicholas Sparks movie. (No wonder they’ve been referred to as the “Brangelina” of the cheer world.) A simple ride home from high school was the catalyst for their relationship—and, a few years later, ended up being the foundation of Miami-based gym Top Gun All-Stars, well-known for its reputation as an industry innovator.
The plot at a glance: Kristen was a 10th grade ballet dancer and Victor a senior cheerleader when they first struck up a friendship. She would often watch after-school cheer practices while waiting for a ride home from her friend (who was also a cheerleader). Normally quiet and reserved, Victor found himself chatting easily with Kristen about gymnastics and cheer. He still gets a little gushy about those early days. “It’s easy to open up and talk to her when she looks like she does,” says Victor.
When Victor later floated the idea of starting an all-star cheerleading program, Kristen hopped on board, melding her knack for organization and book balancing with his cheer experience. They began slowly, with one team that practiced in a park, and built that into what is now Top Gun—a nationally respected gym known for creativity, flow, and trend-setting routines. But the path to prominence hasn’t been a total cakewalk: Victor says accepting the gym’s strengths and weaknesses and viewing itself as something of an underdog has been key to its success.
“We’ve never been a super-powerhouse gym with 700-plus kids and a 30,000 sq.-ft. facility and 40 staff members,” he says. “We came from humble beginnings, and we’re still considered a smaller-scale gym. Our talent is great, but it’s not the most amazing out there, so we’ve had to learn how to be creative and find the things we’re good at.”
That spirit of scrappiness and innovation has led to the gym pioneering stunts that are now prerequisites at high levels of competition (like the pike open basket)—and taking chances on out-of-the-ordinary, memorable routines that often tell a story. After one of their squad members, Omar Moreno, died in a car accident last year, the gym dedicated their 2012 Worlds routine to Omar and other “Fallen Jags,” complete with uniforms studded with angel wings and carefully chosen music ranging from Swedish House Mafia to Bette Midler.
According to Victor, the tragedy ended up making the team stronger than ever. “A lot of our athletes were close with Omar personally. It just kind of inspired them and made them realize that life is really short, and we’ve got to…live every day like it was our last and try to make the most of it,” Victor says. “We just kept them on track and said, ‘We’re going to put the best routine on the floor, and we’re not going to go out there with our fingers crossed that they’re going to hit. We’re going to capitalize on our creativity.’”
Another pioneering move is Kristen’s push for a universal scoresheet, which has been a hot topic amongst widespread complaints about competition results. To further the cause, Kristen led a discussion recently about the topic at the NACCC coaches’ conference.
“It’s hard for the average parent to be able to even look at our sport legitimately, because today, 9.0 was the best routine out there on the floor, and tomorrow, [you get] a 365, you just lost, and you’re in second place,” Kristen says. “They don’t seem to understand it, and our thing was, ‘How do we make it better?’ When we started looking at it, we realized that most of the scoresheets all say the same thing. They’re all judging the same thing, but with a different point scale or rubric.”
She’s hoping that the new scoresheet she’s helped propose will be set into motion by the end of this year.
Kristen and Victor credit their mutual love for cheer and that hard-won thing known as balance—his strong but silent demeanor balancing out her talkative pragmatism—with the success of the gym and their own marriage. Sometimes the two intertwine: Kristen cites one example of traveling to Spain on cheer business when a person she was working with stiffed her $5,000. She still remembers what Victor said to calm her when she called in tears: “Baby, it’s okay; these things happen. I will pick up another camp; I will do what I have to do. I just don’t want to hear you cry.”
The pair has two daughters now, ages 10 and 12. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to learn they love cheerleading as much as their parents do.