By DAVE LEDER
News staff writer
Calling all gymnasts, tumblers and aspiring acrobats young and old. There’s a new club in town.
New to some, anyway.
Gorge Gymnastics, formerly known as Hood River Gymnastics Center, has entered a new era after establishing itself as the preeminent training center in the Columbia River Gorge.
In addition to training future Olympic hopefuls on the pre-team and compulsory team, Gorge Gymnastics offers programs to nearly 250 people of every age and ability level, from toddlers to adults.
The gym, located in the Hood River Sports Club at 1330 Brookside Dr., is open to anyone and attracts participants from Cascade Locks to The Dalles; White Salmon to Stevenson.
Due to the gym’s rapidly growing popularity in the region, gymnastics director Amber Bardin helped organize a contest this fall to rename and develop a new logo. Over 60 entries were collected, and after the staff chose a top three, Sports Club ownership selected Gorge Gymnastics as the winner.
“We wanted to change the name to identify with all the communities that participate in our program,” Bardin said. “Plus, we wanted to highlight both the recreational and competitive programs for newcomers.”
Three of the school’s future stars — Kaela Van Swaay (Intermediate II), Claire Rawson and Kayla Van Hoose (Intermediate I) — collaborated on the new name and logo with compulsory team members Jessica Strain and Kaytlin Hughes.
As a reward for their artistic contributions, the five gymnasts received $150 in gymnastics tuition that they will divide among themselves.
Even before the contest, Bardin has been introducing progressive changes to the gym since she took over as gymnastics director in May. Prior to becoming director, she helped coach the Junior Olympians for four years with girls’ head coach Steve Roney.
Bardin, Roney, Lara Dunn and others have worked tirelessly with local talents like Strain (13) and Hughes (11) to prepare them for national-level competitions.
“There are a lot of very talented kids in the area,” said Roney, who has coached competitive gymnastics for 35 years. “A lot of it is attributed to equally talented parents, but most of the kids are natural athletes who are involved in everything.”
Strain and Hughes recently earned United States Gymnastics Association Level 7 certification at a meet in October. They are two of the finest young gymnasts in the area and are working toward becoming USGA national gymnasts.
Strain, Hughes and all the team members must practice at the gym 10-15 hours per week to master competitive maneuvers such as back layouts and tucks on the floor, walkovers on the balance beam, and “giants” on the uneven bars.
“The long-term goal for many of our kids is to become an Olympian,” Roney said. “The younger they get involved, the faster they learn what it takes.”
But despite the enrollment of 19 pre-team and team-level kids, not everyone at Gorge Gymnastics is involved in the program for the competition.
The majority of students participate in recreational classes, ranging from beginner to intermediate to advanced recreational. There are also more than 20 preschool class times Monday through Friday, and an adult introductory class every Wednesday that has six full-time students.
All classes offer excellent teacher to student ratios (six to one for toddlers; eight to one for others) and provide a top-quality, hands-on learning environment.
“We have a huge enrollment in spite of the town’s size,” Roney said. “Much of that is due to the programs we offer, but this gym is also one of the nicest facilities around.”
Gorge Gymnastics offers all the major apparatuses, including balance beams, uneven bars, a spring-loaded floor, vault, parallel bars, and more tumbling mats than you can back-handspring over.
It also employs some of the finest instructors in the state, such as Leslie Pyfer, a former national champion and the number-one U.S. qualifier for the boycotted 1980 Olympics; Collin Godkin, the boys’ team coach who competed on the senior national team four times; and Dunn, who is the assistant girls’ team coach and adult recreational instructor.
Gorge Gymnastics not only helps out students but also their parents by sponsoring a Parents Night Out the second Saturday of each month, as well as birthday party packages. If you have questions about any Gorge Gymnastics class or promotion, call Bardin at 386-3230.