After a summer without bars, mats and acrobatic flips, the Mariposa Gymnastics Club is preparing to reopen its doors.
While the club has been coaching some competitive gymnasts through the summer, its popular recreation programs were cancelled in the wake of COVID-19 restrictions — and the gym has been mostly empty since March.
Now, with a new completely online registration system, both athletes and coaches are excited to get back to the sport, with classes beginning Sept. 14.
“It’s exciting for the kids. They’ve been missing it a huge amount,” says Leslie Herdman, who has three children enrolled in Mariposa’s programs.
It’s exciting for gymnastics staff, too, who’ve been planning for the reopening for months.
“We’re creatively planning and practising ways to teach the kids the sport that they love, but in a different way that they’re used to,” says Courtnee Rodriguez, a recreation and competitive coach with the gym.
The gymnastics club announced September’s plan after Premier Doug Ford encouraged an easing of restrictions on gyms and exercise facilities.
"To help them get back on their feet and hire back staff, we are making these changes so they can serve more people,” said Ford at a press conference late last week. “I continue to urge everyone to follow the strict public health protocols to ensure everyone can have a safe workout.”
The new normal of gymnastics? No parents inside, multiple sanitization stations and a coach dedicated to cleaning equipment.
And that process has required a lot of planning, says Rodriguez.
“There was a lot of planning and replanning. Every time something changed, the (board of directors) had to change what was happening," she said.
With a movement and touch-based sport like gymnastics, the actual coaching method has had to evolve, too.
“There’s a lot of tucking little kids' heads,” says Rodriguez, “a lot of holding them up, putting them in positions, holding their hands as they’re walking across the balance beam or holding them as they’re swinging on the bars.”
Now it’s hands-off, with coaches focusing on verbal cues and only intervening to avoid injuries.
“It’s a little different but it’s really safe from a coaching standpoint,” Rodriguez says.
The class sizes — usually around 10 — have decreased to six, with smaller kids in classes of four, a designated instructor sticking with them for their whole nine-month session.
“I think that the gym has put lot of great practices in place,” says Herdman. “They’re going out of their way to take care of the gymnasts and themselves and I think that it’s excellent to provide that for the kids, to get back in there.”
The gymnastics community at Mariposa is tight-knit, with families responding to the club’s announcement enthusiastically on Facebook.
For Herdman, gymnastics proved a valuable addition to her family's life.
“It’s given them something to do, they’re busy and they’ve made friends. I’ve even made friends with other parents. It keeps them involved and it gives them a separate family,” she says.
In a way, perhaps, the fall might be a sort of family reunion. Rodriguez has gone months without seeing the kids she’s coached for years.
“I really miss them a lot,” she says. “I can’t wait to see them and they’ll be so happy to see us as well.”