Sean Townsend walked into the Team Texaco Houston Gymnastics
Academy on Sept. 27 feeling like a new man. He'd earned his share
of titles over the last year--2000 Olympian and 2001 U.S.
all-around champion, to name two--but this was the first day he
could go to work as Homeowner Sean Townsend. "Closed, done,"
Townsend, 22, said proudly of the place he had just purchased
outside Galveston, 30 minutes south of the gym in which he
trains. "Three bedrooms, two bathrooms, 1,600 square feet,
backyard, two-car garage. I'm very happy."
Three states away Sean's father, Frost, was at a rest stop in
Franklin, Ky., and you could almost see him beaming as he talked
by phone about his son. "He's a landowner when most kids his age
are hanging out at the dorm," Frost, a long-haul truck driver,
said. "I'm so proud of him."
In January 1979, Sean was born two months premature, weighing
only three pounds, seven ounces. Frost, who divorced Sean's
mother, Patti, in '83, raised the boy and his sister, Tiffany,
who's 10 months older, at a house he was renting in Rockwall,
Texas. As a child Sean was undersized and introverted, and he had
a knack for walking up and down stairs on his hands. When Sean
was 10, Frost took him to a gymnastics class and watched him
outperform the other boys. "You could see the look on his face
right away," Frost said. "Sean was shy, but he had a confidence
in that gym that he didn't have anywhere else. His progress was
Within a month Sean had picked up rudimentary skills on each of
the six apparatuses, and six months later he was second in the
state 10-and-under championships. Frost didn't make enough money
from his job then, loading milk trucks, to pay for lessons and
insurance, so he cleaned the gym, carried out the trash and
became president of the parents' booster club to raise money for
the gymnasts. In each of the next five years Sean won state
age-group titles. When he was 15 his coach, Ron Harper, accepted
a job in Houston, leaving Frost, who by then was driving trucks
locally for North American Van Lines, in a difficult spot. What
can I do to help Sean reach his dreams? Frost thought. How do I
do it so that I don't cheat Tiffany, who has all her friends
Frost eventually decided to give up his home, live out of a rig
(he loaded it with a bed, a small refrigerator, a microwave and a
TV) and zigzag the country as a long-haul trucker to make more
money and better support his kids. Sean moved to Houston to live
and train with Harper, while Tiffany stayed with Frost's sister,
Marsha Horn, in Rockwall. Frost requested routes that enabled him
to watch Sean compete from New York to California. When Harper
left the Houston gym in 1996, Sean moved in with the family of
teammate Todd Thornton in nearby Clear Lake. "Without my dad and
the Thorntons, there's no chance I'd be here," Sean says.
"Everybody made it work."
Townsend progressed well on every apparatus except pommel horse,
an event for which his lack of size (5'3", 130 pounds) makes him
ill-suited. He won the junior national all-around title in 1997,
was second all-around at senior nationals last year and was
third at the U.S. Olympic trials all-around in August 2000 while
fighting strep throat and a 104[degree] fever. He didn't win a
medal in Sydney, but he helped the American men finish fifth and
received the highest score on parallel bars, a 9.787, of any
gymnast during the team finals. Frost watched from the top row
of the arena.
In August, Sean won his first national all-around title, in
Philadelphia, and will lead the U.S. to the world championships
that begin later this month in Ghent, Belgium. On Oct. 1 he
signed with Personalities and Promotions International, the
sports marketing firm founded by Dallas Cowboys legend Roger
Having delayed plans to complete a business degree until after
the 2004 Olympics, Sean has done something else that has Frost
glowing: He has collected his first rent check, from Tiffany,
who's a junior at the University of Houston, and a boarder in the
house that Sean financed largely with money he earned from
competitions and exhibitions. "First the Olympics, then the
rent," says Frost. "Ain't that something!"
COLOR PHOTO: DAVE BLACK
"He had confidence in that gym that he didn't have anywhere
else. His progress was unreal."