The forgotten sport of gymnastics

Written by Amanda McMahon

Summer time is the time when most athletes train for new skills and reach new goals, work hard and prepare for the upcoming season. The same geos for gymnastics. However, gymnastics In Michigan looks much different this year as it remains one of the only places in the US effectively closed, with all 49 other states, and northern Michigan open. For that reason, gymnastics parents and athletes visited Lansing on August 22nd to bring awareness to their current situation.

Artistic gymnastics is an individual sport where athletes begin training at a young age and by middle school most are training 4-5 days a week for 3+ hours at a time. This sport requires dedication and persistence. After school, gymnasts head to the gym and get home late at night. It is not just a one season sport, it is a full year sport. With this closure – no only are their skills at risk, but their mental health as well.

Gymnastics facilities mostly closed before the governor required it for the safety of their athletes. The owners quickly began purchasing cleaning supplies, air purifiers and began processes to help ensure safety of their athletes. However, it has now been over 5 months, and these athletes are still outside their gymnastics facilities, and Michigan gymnasts are falling behind.

When the Michigan stay-at-home order was first put in place many gymnasts got air track mats so that they could practice on their own at home. When outdoor gatherings began, many gyms chose to start backyard and blacktop gymnastics. However, that is not enough at this point.

For club gymnastss, by 8th-10th grade, gymnastics becomes a national sport. There may be a few local meets, but the competition is at the national level, requiring the best of the best to perfect their skills through rigorous training and attention to detail. This training can only be done in facilities with proper equipment and coaching.

Some skills cannot be done on blacktop.

And let’s be honest, this is Michigan, how long do we have where we can be outside even conditioning and doing general fitness?

Gymnastics is NOT the same as a public fitness center. Most are private clubs, some are run by YMCAs or city programs. But all require advance sign ups, and those competing understand safety and are assigned to coaches and small groups where “everyone knows your name…” making it a lot easier than strip clubs or resto-bars to know who was near whom,

Here are a few facts about the current state of gymnastics:

  • The average facility is over 16,000 sq feet with most being upwards of 20,000 sq ft. 
  • The space is naturally distanced because it is unsafe for the athletes to work near others. The carpet rolls for the spring floors alone are naturally 6 feet apart, so besides marking space in the facilities to remain distanced, most of the apparatus naturally require 6 feet or more apart.
  • Competitive gymnasts, on average, take 1-2 weeks off per year. They’re now going on 6 months without adequate training
  • The average college scholarship is worth $20,000/year. Michigan gymnasts are losing out because they cannot train in their facilities
  • Some gyms are renting gym time from gyms in Ohio and Indiana and it is expensive. Families are trying to support their local facility where their kids spend more waking time than at home, but the cost adds up to also rent gym time outside the states
  • Artistic Gymnastics is a non contact sport

Gymnasts across the US can be found successfully training upgrades in their facilities, but not in Michigan. A few locations around the US have shut down due to local surges in cases, but most have remained open because gymnastics is a low risk sport, attendance is taken and everyone has an assigned space making physical distancing and any case tracking extremely easy.

Michigan gymnastics needs the support of the community. Parents and athletes are confident that safety protocols are in place and will be followed so that the industry can survive.

Follow our movement on twitter with #savemichigangymnastics and #saveMIsports

About the author

Amanda McMahon