Pike Gymnastics Academy
By Katie Collins Lifestyles Editor Follow Katie @Lifestyles51
PORT JERVIS – When a gymnast falls, they will get back up at the Pike Gymnastics Academy. Owner and Coach, Jill Lynch says giving up is not an option because gymnastics is more than a sport; instead, its “about life lessons” and having to push “yourself to the max.”
Once inside of the academy, gymnasts can be seen flipping and flying through the air or maneuvering on the equipment. Lynch smiles when she talks of her students’ dedication because she knows the commitment that’s needed for success, especially for those on the competitive team. Multiple factors are required for the athletes to grow, as they progress on the equipment that’s a part of competing. Recognized for their skills, members of the competitive team are chosen and range from 7 to 14-years-old.
Learning and growing
Learning to flip and do cartwheels on the beams is a process according to Lynch. What starts with holding the athlete’s hand as they walk across the beam, gradually evolves to encouragement of trying more by themselves, and remembering the many mats below the equipment.
Believing and being positive is essential to coaching Lynch says, because while each athlete is at a different level, their individual progress is significant to each gymnast, which transcends to the growth of their confidence.
The growth of the gymnasts is gradual, as they start with the rules and safety basics. From there, they may learn how to do handstands by putting their hand against the wall and walking outward. Lynch says a key to the progress is focusing on the coach and understanding the “rhyme and reason” of the gym.
The academy’s coaches
There are 10 coaches at the gym, each with varying backgrounds that offer dance and conditioning with junior coaches who are teens, learning the position. To be a coach, a certification is required from the USA Gymnastics. Lynch holds each certification, in addition to judging.
A gymnast since she was 5-years-old, Lynch competed on teams, did cheerleading and eventually coached gymnastics in college. Today, in addition to coaching at the academy, she teaches tumbling at Minisink Valley School and Delaware Valley School. Lynch says it’s the “obstacles” of the sport that she enjoys, because a gymnast doesn’t want to walk away from them. The same is true, with coaching because she wants to push the young gymnasts to “be the best.”
Ages of the athletes range from toddlers to teens, and on the competitive team the gymnasts are 7 to 15-years-old. The hours invested in training is continuous with some training one day a week, others five days a week, only limited because the academy can’t homeschool the gymnasts.
No matter the age of the athlete, Lynch says each level is “progressive” because she wants the gymnasts to “love the beam” and try new things, but she also knows that each child is different and despite their varying ages, their progress is “dependent on their ability.”
A gymnast’s ability to flip in the air, started when they followed a line on the floor, moving onto the beam and eventually the mats with a lot of spotting. There are eight competitive levels and those on the competitive team are taking part in an entirely different arena of gymnastics according to Lynch.
Proudly, Lynch says the gymnasts on the team are a “different kind of kid” because of their abilities. A goal of the coaches, is to assist the athletes gain self-confidence and realize what they are able to do, without help. Every day Lynch is amazed by the athletes at the academy because the levels differ, but so too, do the kids.
Lynch says “anybody” can be a gymnast, because “It’s about loving the sport.” Same is true with competitive gymnast because gymnastics are a “different beast” that requires a “different kid.” She feels gymnastics is a hard sport because the athlete has to do the: bars, beam, floor and vault in addition to the hours of stretching and conditioning.
Gymnasts start as young as toddlers, where they begin by working on motor movement with their parents’ help walking across the beam, with a coach guiding them nearby. They’re generally smaller classes that focus on strength, flexibility, coordination and an introduction to gymnastics by teaching forward roles, handstands and classic gymnastics movements.
As they continue, the gymnasts learn the safety basics followed by handstands and handsprings. Lynch says the academy has a “very low injury rate” even though the lessons are “progressive.” The basics of gymnastics is handstands, cartwheels and forward rolls that lay a foundation for learning more.
Because the academy is fairly new, the oldest students who have been training for four years are currently 15-years-old. So, teenagers can join too, but they start in the beginner class because it’s based on the individual’s ability.
To accommodate the interests of the nearly 40 boys enrolled in the academy, the classes may have a ninja focus, where they hop from beam to beam or consider who may be able to do the most chin-ups.
From a business aspect, Lynch says the competitions are important, but there’s so much more to gymnastics because of how it can set the students up to be “successful” at other sports. If an athlete has a background in gymnastics, they are likely to be a “stronger athlete” because of the strength they’ve developed in addition to their balance and coordination.
The difference between tumbling and gymnastics Lynch explains, “tumbling is all floor” that includes 15 minutes of stretching and conditioning, followed by the floor basics. Whereas gymnastics uses the equipment with the inclusion of dance, that’s taught by a professional ballerina.
Lynch says dance is a large part of gymnastics because everything works in turns and leaps, which goes beyond being on the floor and the beams, but is shown through dance elements on the bars and vault.
Together, the gymnasts compete as a team, but they go into the four events as individuals, and then there is an all-around award for the entire team. Even though a gymnast might not do well on their own, the team’s overall score may place them in first.
Four athletes recently traveled to Nashville to compete in the world competition for the first-time and 12-year-old London VanHorn placed second on the bars and the team placed six in the all-around. Before going to worlds, the gymnasts have to succeed in the regional and then state meets.
Words from the gymnasts
A 14-year-old gymnast, Laney Schmitz says she has been training for four years because she enjoys learning new skills that makes her “happy.” Although gymnastics can be challenging, Schmitz enjoys the events because it keeps her “on track” with school because of the discipline that is required by applying herself and needing to focus.
Of the events, Schmitz finds the beam to be the hardest because it is small and there’s only one mat nearby, so if you fall “you’re done” she says with a laugh. Even still, it’s her favorite because of its difficulty, but she’s no longer afraid of it. As for competing, Schmitz likes receiving good scores and watching friends.
Maddison Balmos has been a gymnast since she was 3-years-old, when she started competing on the floor with friends. For Balmos, she finds “mental blocks” to be the hardest part of gymnastics because it takes time to overcome the nerves when competing she says. Today, she feels gymnastics is a sport where fear is a component that an athlete has to overcome by simply going for it and realizing that if you’re going to fall, you won’t hurt yourself because there are many mats.
For Lynch, her love of the sport continues to grow because of the kids and how proud they make her. Smiling, she looks at the gymnasts training, recalling how they were in those beginning classes. Never did Lynch see herself owning a gym, but in addition to the love of the sport she acknowledges her husband’s support and she wouldn’t change anything.
When the academy opened in 2014, the popularity was immediate, with 200 students enrolled within the first four months. Lynch discovered the building on Jersey Avenue in Port Jervis in 2015 and now, she’s looking for something more because space is needed, since there may be as many as 400 athletes for the classes and 75 in the competitive program depending on the time of year. Now that she’s considering building a gym, Lynch calls the future “exciting.”