By Scott Strasser, February 26 2015 —
University of Calgary students may be surprised to learn that we have a pretty kick-ass gymnastics centre.
Located in the basement of Kinesiology B, the centre was built in 1987 with Olympic facility funding. It has Olympic-standard equipment and has been home to athletes such as Kyle Shewfelt, who won Canada’s first gold medal at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.
I recently learned of the weekly gymnastics drop-ins every Tuesday and Thursday night and I strolled down to the bowels of the KNES building to see what it was all about. What I found was pretty cool.
According to Active Living, drop-in gymnastics was offered for years at the U of C before it was cancelled because of staffing issues. After a long hiatus, they brought it back in fall 2013. It’s now offered Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7:30–9:00 p.m. with supervision from professional coaches.
Shewfelt’s old coach, Tony Smith, still leads the men’s program at the U of C. Smith is the Canadian National team director for the men’s program, but he’s also responsible for getting drop-in gymnastics back on campus.
Smith said he wanted to show the university community what the sport has to offer.
“I really noticed the lack of U of C students coming to the centre, so I volunteered to head this thing up and get it back on track,” Smith said. “The concept was to introduce gymnastics back into the student body as a way of keeping fit, having fun and exploring using your body in a different way.”
According to Smith, 35–40 students come to the drop-in every week. It’s become a popular place not just for gymnasts but other athletes as well.
“The variety of people we get in here is incredible, with the dancers, the parkour guys, the snowboarders and the ex-gymnasts,” Smith said.
As I watched the acrobatics going on around me, I couldn’t help but agree. There was a group of people by the trampoline, another by the pommel horse and a bunch of guys down by the vault. To my right, a woman balanced on the uneven bars while chatting with a spotter.
Third-year nursing student Ryan Trainer is a drop-in regular who’s been coming since last term. He has a background in martial arts, but enjoys coming to the centre to work on the rings and the parallel bars.
“[The centre] is one of the top gyms I’ve been to. Everyone is friendly and the community is really great,” Trainer said.
Another regular is second-year archeology student Jessica Woodhouse, who focuses on floor and trampoline exercises. She said she fell in love with the sport after coming to the drop-in for the first time with a friend last semester.
“I’ve always loved watching gymnastics and just kind of fell in love with being able to learn it at my own pace and work on what I wanted to work on,” Woodhouse said.
Of course, gymnastics is a sport with several risks. Participants must fill out a waiver at client services before they are allowed in.
Smith said safety is the primary concern and the coaches who supervise are chosen due to their size and ability to work with adults.
“We needed guys with muscles who could spot,” Smith said. “The idea here is we want to teach and have a hands-on approach. If someone comes in and has never done a back-flip in their life, we can walk them through the steps and have the manpower to teach it safely.”
Woodhouse said the professional coaching keeps her coming back.
“The professional coaching is really helpful and we’re able to go up to them and ask ‘hey can you help me with this?’ and that’s what they do,” Woodhouse said.
“They go through stuff step-by-step and give you progressions to work on.”
Smith offered advice for any first-time drop-ins without gymnastics experience.
“Come in here and get a hold of coaches right away. Let them know you haven’t done anything, ask them how to warm-up and where to start,” Smith said.