It’s been 16 years since Jair Lynch won the silver medal in the parallel bars at the Atlanta Olympics, so don’t expect him to put on a repeat performance today. Good luck even trying to persuade the 40-year-old real estate developer to do a cartwheel.
“Gymnastics is not a sport with a masters program,” says Lynch, who will never forget how physically demanding it was, training six hours a day. “The issue, at least from my vantage point, is that the joints can’t keep up when they’re not in shape. Even simple things like tumbling are hard on your wrists and elbows.”
Now the Shaw resident is focused on another kind of maneuver: invigorating neighborhoods in the District. Jair Lynch Development Partners, which he founded in 1998 has so far created 1.65 million square feet worth of schools, housing, commercial buildings and recreation centers.
In all of his projects, Lynch prioritizes walkability and access to physical activity. “We think about the little things like lights in stairwells,” he says. (Playing the “Rocky” theme has come under consideration as well.) He’s already put in plenty of bike racks, so the next step is installing bike decks — where people can fix flat tires and do other maintenance — in the hopes of encouraging more riding.
Nowhere is this emphasis on movement more apparent than at rec centers such as the King Greenleaf Recreation Center in Southwest, where I met Lynch last month at an event promoting sports to kids.
He delivered a funny speech about how he realized that, at 5-foot-4, he was never going to be a basketball star. But words aren’t how Lynch thinks he’ll get through to today’s youth. He’s betting on buildings that provide spaces and opportunities. “It’s a great sense of pride and joy to have this lasting legacy of recreation centers,” he says. “There have been a lot of great athletes that have come out of D.C. These kids could be a whole new generation.”
Lynch considers himself lucky in that when he was growing up in Shepherd Park, there was no question he was going to be an athlete. Lynch’s father, an avid soccer player in his native Trinidad, got him kicking the ball around early. But he discovered his true calling at the age of 8, and his gymnastics career immediately took off.
“I was always the kid who wanted to come early and leave late and get in line three more times,” says Lynch, who headed out to Columbia every day to train while attending Sidwell Friends School. He was an even bigger star at Stanford — captain of the university’s two-time NCAA champion gymnastics team, as well as a stellar student with big plans beyond the Olympic Games.
By the time Lynch arrived at the Atlanta Olympics (his second), he’d already been working in real estate development for two years. So it was a natural transition when he retired from the sport and directed all of his athletic energy into this new goal. “I don’t think I adjusted my pace to what was around me. I went in faster and I continued with that,” he says.
Lynch still sees the direct impact of his Olympic past on his present career, especially when he thinks about setting goals, dealing with short-term and long-term issues and differentiating himself from the pack. “When I was competing, the only way to get a 10.0 was through bonus points for risk, originality and virtuosity,” he says. “Those traits translate into the work I do.”
And although he isn’t doing round-off back handsprings, those years at the gym haven’t been totally forgotten. Early on in retirement, Lynch eagerly tried a bunch of new sports. “I went skiing and water-skiing, things I didn’t try while I was competing because I didn’t want to risk getting injured,” he says. “But I had enough crazy extremes in gymnastics.”
He gradually moved into yoga, bike riding and swimming, which — along with some weightlifting — form the basis of his fitness regimen today. Swimming’s quickly become a favorite activity, not only because it gives him an opportunity to take a dip in pools all over the city, but also because he can take his nearly 3-year-old daughter with him.
This switch to endurance fitness is still taking some getting used to for Lynch, who reminds me that gymnastics routines are typically a minute long. So doing laps for half an hour is about all he can muster. “My wife does twice as much as I do. I notice that when I’m sitting on the side of the pool,” he says.
Sitting and watching are the activities that’ll bring Lynch back to the Games this year. Since 2004, he’s served on the board of the U.S. Olympic Committee, assisting American athletes. “My number one job is to scream as loud as I can. I have several other jobs, but that’s the most fun,” Lynch says.
He plans to take in some gymnastics (of course), track and field, basketball, taekwondo and fencing. “There’s a common thread between all athletes in terms of grit,” Lynch says. “It gives me goosebumps to see them perform and really persevere.”
And it gives him the motivation to do the same here in Washington.
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Hallett edits the Fit section of Express.
Read past fitness columns by Hallett and Lenny Bernstein here