Weekend leisure: A spring in their step

By Danielle Wright

A gymnast in action during training. Photo / Dean Purcell
A gymnast in action during training. Photo / Dean Purcell

There's no need to sit on the sidelines and watch the kids have all the fun, Danielle Wright discovers there's a parallel adult class for many kids' lessons like ballet, soccer, and yes, even gymnastics.

Search "adult gymnastics" on YouTube and you'll find many proud over-40s posting their back-flips and impressive bar work on the site. It's odd to watch older people doing gymnastics because it's a sport associated with youth, but many are coming to the sport over the age of 30, and loving it.

There are different types of adult gymnastics classes, some more teacher-led than others and I have come to a class at New Zealand's largest gymnastics club, North Harbour Gymnastics.

Tonight, it's everyone for themselves with groups of mainly men (the "Ninjas" as the two girls here call them) taking turns tumbling, bouncing and somersaulting their way across over 1600m2 of working floor space into giant foam pits.

Some are here because they wonder if they can still do the moves they could as a younger person, others for the core strength workout and improvement in flexibility, but many are here without any formal training, just for the fun of it - all are pretty impressive in their skills.

"We expected 98 per cent females, just like it was at school gymnastics," says Gabrielle Wilson from Mt Wellington, who meets her friend Meredith Bladen from Coatesville here every week as "somewhere in the middle".

"It's more fun than a boring gym and there's no 'meat market'-feel. You can do as much or as little as you like," says Bladen.

Snowboarders, surfers, martial artists, cheerleaders, competitive aerobics teams, or just people wanting to meet up with their friends during the week can all benefit from a gymnastics workout.

Some, like Tom Paulo and his friends from Pakuranga, didn't know how to do any gymnastics before coming three years ago. Now, they can back flip as good as any "real" gymnast, though there have been "quite a few injuries" along the way.

"It keeps us fit, it's good," says Paulo, who tore a ligament in an ankle when about to do a flip not long ago.

Genevieve Ellis is one of the supervisors here tonight and is training to be a nurse, which comes in handy. She's seen a couple of broken bones in her time and the parkour enthusiasts, or free runners, who practise their moves in the adult gymnastics classes are particularly prone to injuries.

One, Scott Cowell, is the first person I notice as I enter the gym, he has prominent scrapes all over his face after trying a double flip and landing on his face, but "that comes with it, it's fun", he promises.

Feeling a bit nervous now, I stick to the easier equipment. The trampolines are far bouncier than the backyard varieties and there's a long, straight tumbling trampoline, as well as beams, sprung floors, vaults, pommel horse, asymmetric bars, rings, ropes to climb, high bars and of course, everyone's favourite - the foam pit to cushion your fall.

North Harbour Gymnastics Centre is a non-profit community organisation but the facilities and equipment are of a high standard. It's no surprise the centre produces champion gymnasts and at a recent competition in Tauranga the club placed first, second and third.

Britney Spears blasts from the tiny radio, but "the Ninjas" aren't so happy with this choice and look over at Ellis. "Music is very important at adult gym... and loud," she explains and changes the channel.

A newcomer arrives and is taken over to the rhythmic gym floor to warm up. The coaches give as much or as little assistance as needed and they show her a few skills she can work on, while Tom, a real Power Ranger stuntman, flips past.

Big smiles are on everyone's faces, just like at the kids' classes earlier in the day. The only difference tonight is the gymnasts don't all rush to climb the tree outside the centre on the way home.

Where to start

* Adult gymnastic classes are held every Tuesday and Thursday from 8pm-10pm at North Harbour Gymnastics Centre, Silverfield Rd (off Porana Rd), Glenfield, ph (09) 443 2570. www.nhym.co.nz

Cost: Casual $18, concession card 5 sessions $60, concession card 10 sessions $110.

* Contact Gymsports NZ for information about a class in your region. www.gymsportsnz.com

- NZ Herald

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