Fitness, Fat-less, Fall-less: permanent gym needed – Opinion

Opinion by Michelle Stirling

On March 14, about 40 people came to the Kinsmen Community Centre to hear a presentation by the Ponoka Gymnastics and Trampoline Club. The club is looking to build a permanent facility. How ironic that 47 years ago the club began — and I remember being part of it in the rec centre — on hard mats and the even harder cement floor. But I loved it then, and long to do gymnastics now.

Most people think of the gym club as a small group of about 100 kids and their parents who like to putter around in the Diamond Willow Middle School gym once a week. So the club generally gets the brush off when this type of request for a building is made. Why wouldn’t the club just continue to use Diamond Willow? What’s a permanent facility required for? Why a big building for a tiny club?

The club is small because the few precious hours that Diamond Willow provides mean only a limited number of kids can join. The maximum capacity of members right now is very small.

Let’s compare hockey and gymnastics for a moment. In Ponoka, hockey has two indoor rinks and two outdoor rinks. Lots of families are part of hockey — and the hockey rinks are always available to them in season — they don’t have to make their own ice every time they want to skate.

Let’s compare the skating rink and gymnastics. When you want to swim, go to the pool. The pool is built and full of water. Pay your fee and jump in. You’ll even have a lifeguard who is paid for by the town to help you.

When you want to do gymnastics, once you join the club, you (parent) arrive an hour early to help drag the approximately two tons of gymnastics equipment on rolling dollies from the storage room near the drama and music rooms at Diamond Willow school, down two hallways and into the gym. For the next 45 minutes, you and a handful of dedicated parents and coaches will unload the dollies and patiently lay out all the equipment – three huge rolls of floor exercise mats will be unrolled and velcroed together; a box horses and various beat boards and mini-tramps will be set up for vaulting; uneven bars will be wired down on the stage; two large trampolines and a mini-tramp with crash mat will be set up; three different balance beams — and various bits and pieces like hoops, bean bags and exercise stations will be laid out.

Your child will do gymnastics for an hour or so; the second class will do two hours and then you will get to help roll up everything on the floor and put it all away again for about another 45 minutes.

The Ponoka Gymnastics Club presentation indicated that a permanent facility would be able to provide year-round fitness activity for the entire community — particularly seniors. To prove the point the club played Age is no Barrier — a documentary about the U of Agers gym troupe that featured folks with age-numbered T-shirts — from 57 to 80 — all doing various levels of gymnastics.

The audience watched the whole documentary — in awe of these ‘old people’ acting like they were 12 — doing splits, cartwheels, dance routines, headstands, rope climbing — you name it.

The ‘old people’ all stated that they wanted to be fit and healthy and they loved the individual challenge of gymnastics (some had never done any before) as well as the ‘community’ of friends they developed.

Federal and provincial governments are scratching their heads about how to have healthier, fitter-not-fatter communities. Every November is “Fall Prevention Month” for seniors. Yet this “Senior Friendly” community of Ponoka has no place for seniors to practice ‘fall prevention’ — nor does it have year-round fitness options for the whole community.

And I think the answer is obvious.

We need a permanent gymnastics building. A place where people can ‘fall’ safely and practice balance. A place where snow/skate boarders can practise wild stunts on padded pits of foam. A place that hopefully could include a walking track — a small cafe or kiosk. A meeting place where fitness will become a way of life.

The Ponoka Gymnastics and Trampoline Club needs serviced land and about another $300,000 to make this a reality for the whole community.

In the 47 years the gym club has been in existence, the town and taxpayers have never contributed. A significant contribution now would actually be a very good investment in the overall health of the entire community. About one in four people is over age 65 — the ‘tsunami’ of boomers has only begun.

It would really make the town ‘Senior Friendly’ year round — and the facility, once built, would not require the large maintenance costs associated with either the pool or rink. Best of all, gymnastics is the ideal basic training for all sports — and lessons learned in balance and motion go with you throughout your life.

Let’s get fitter, not fatter, Ponoka. Let’s have fewer falls. Let’s give our children more to do during or after school, and our handi-capable community something healthy to do during the day. Let’s get seniors out of the armchair and onto the floor exercise mat.

Let’s build a permanent gymnastics facility. Now.