Renowned coaches spend Valentine's Day together, on the job

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - This Valentine's Day will not be particularly romantic for world renowned Pine Belt couple Vladimir Ufinsteva and Rita Dronova. It will be just another day on the job, as coaches for Hattiesburg's Planet Gymnastics, the two will be in a car, headed down to Dallas for a gymnastics invitational competition in which their team is competing. They have traveled all over the world together, the nine hour trip to Dallas is nothing.

They met in a gym; he was her coach, and she was his gymnast.  She was just nine years old when they more than 40 years ago.

"I was little when I first saw him. He was my coach, I liked him as a coach, then of course when I grew up it was different," said Rita.

She left the gym when she left for college, years passed, and she came back. She got as a job as a gymnastics coach alongside Vladimir. By then, they had known each other for a decade, neither can quite remember the details of the first date.

"It's difficult to say what's a date, like official date, it wasn't official date," said Vladimir. "Just let's go let's go." Rita laughs.

However it started, they have been together now for 28 years. "He's definitely one of kind. He's not like ordinary person," said Rita.

"She is very talented of course," said Vladimir. "Of course she is beautiful, you can see she does not look like her age." Rita is 53 and Vladimir, known around the gym as "Big Vlad" is 64.

He has trained world-class gymnasts - even the Soviet Union's 1988 Men's Olympic Gold Medal team, and she has choreographed some of the world's best athletes.

They have bounced from the Russia, to England, to Scotland, to Alabama and ended up in Hattiesburg - where they became United State citizens together around this time last year. All the while, as a couple, overcoming the hurdles that come with moving around the world.

The language barrier was a challenge in the beginning Rita said. "Education," said Vladimir, "How people are raised here, traditions, generally, what's different between (cultures)."

They have raised two children - their daughter Oleysa works at Planet Gymnastics with them, where gymnasts travel hundreds of miles to come here and learn from them.

Living together and working together for all this time, you have to wonder - do they ever get sick of each other? They both smile and shake their heads "no"; but they admit that it takes work

"Sometimes it's hard to stick to each other every minute," said Rita.

But staying together, they said, is simple.

"She need me, I need her," said Vladimir. "I guess we just stick to each other," said Rita.

Copyright 2012 WDAM. All rights reserved.