The Prince Rupert Gymnastics Association is an unquestionable success story.
On Sunday, the club cut the ribbon on its new, fully-equipped facility in front of family, friends and sponsors to showcase the culmination of a whirlwind of hard work and an outpouring of community support.
Clarence Nelson, hereditary chief of the Gitwilgyoots tribe, welcomed PRGA to the community, which has come a long way from its humble beginnings in the Jim Ciccone Civic Centre.
When the PRGA started, the club was caught in a space crunch at the civic centre forcing them to set up and take down their meagre and overly-worn equipment each time. Now, courtesy of nearly $120,000 in donations, largely due to the Port of Prince Rupert Community Investment Fund, the club boasts a fully-functional gym in the Ceremonial Room of the Museum of Northern B.C.
The club received just more than $60,000 in cash and in-kind donations from several corporate sponsors. In addition to the Port of Prince Rupert, other sponsors include Pacific Northwest Electric and Controls, Wheelhouse Brewery, Wal-Mart, Rotary Club of Prince Rupert, Northern Savings Credit Union, Bandstra Transportation Systems, Brian Musgrave, DP World, British Columbia Maritime Employee Association, Empire Grain Stevedoring, Rupert Cleaners and Laundry, Islander Hall, Lions Club, Ridley Terminals Inc., Wainwright Marine, Pinnacle Renewable Energy, Knights of Columbus, Prince Rupert Grain, Keith Lambourne and Saam Smit Marine.
“This allowed us to take our club where we wanted it to be. In three short years, we are now operating to the capacity of any other gymnastics club in Canada,” said Jackie Touchet, president of PRGA.
“The Community Investment Fund was the perfect fit to help us move forward and achieve our dream of becoming a hub for children to develop not just physical skills, but social skills and self-confidence,” she said.
Don Krusel, president and CEO of the Port of Prince Rupert, said the accomplishment is owed to the hard work of a dedicated group of volunteers combined with the generosity of local societies and businesses.
“It has resulted in a new initiative that is improving the quality of life in our community. It’s our pleasure to partner with the Prince Rupert Gymnastics Association and help bring this exciting sport to an even greater number of people in Prince Rupert,” he said.
The club used the money to purchase brand new equipment, which arrived just before Christmas. Anyone who visited the club before the equipment arrived will see the major difference now. Even just walking across the new 40-foot square sprung floor shows how much better it is.
Aside from a new 40 square-foot sprung floor, other new equipment includes specialized air tumbling floors, three types of mini trampolines, a new full-sized trampoline with a hotbed, uneven bars, similar to those used at the Rio Olympics, a high bar, vaulting equipment, new springboards, balance beams and eight giant crash mats perfect for teaching newcomers how to flip.
Gymnastics is hot in Prince Rupert right now, with arguably the most exponential growth of any organization in the city. It’s come a long way in just a few years. PRGA was founded by a handful of local parents in 2014, starting with donated equipment that had not been in use for 20 years.
“We knew our kids weren’t the only ones wanting gymnastics in Prince Rupert, as we had children signed up before we had a space, a coach or any equipment. All we really had was the desire to see this happen and the support from others who wanted to see this happen as well,” said Kate Toye, vice-president of PRGA.
Leading the squad
In June 2016, PRGA hired Bill Tyrwhitt, their first full-time coach, who came to Prince Rupert with more than 30 years experience and certifications in Early Learning, Level 3 Technical Women’s Artistic, Level 2 Men’s and Level 2 Trampoline.
Since his arrival, he has been instrumental in growing the club’s membership from 90 members to now more than 220, and a coaching staff of 10. Tyrwhitt figures the club will grow to 300 by September.
“I would say this is the fastest-growing gymnastics club in Canada, having achieved $100,000 worth of equipment or more plus 220 members in nine months is kind of amazing,” he said.
Tyrwhitt, who is at the gym six days a week, said the commitment shown by the community and the gymnastics executives speaks volumes about how much they can achieve so quickly.
He can’t say enough about how great the new equipment has already been for the kids.
“It’s had a huge impact. The kids are really enjoying themselves using it. It gives the gymnastics club an opportunity to develop a competitive stream program which the people of Prince Rupert have dreamed of for years, so they finally have it,” Tyrwhitt said.
PRGA will soon begin drafting its first competitive team. The coach is in the process of advancing young athletes.
“We have so many young athletes who are showing that they love the sport and they want to train more so we’re gradually increasing their hours to the point where they are improving rapidly,” he said.
The new equipment makes that process so much easier, giving the kids an opportunity to become competition-ready on competition-level equipment.
Learning to coach
Over the course of this season, Tyrwhitt has been putting together a team of capable, young coaches to help him. So far, he has a team of 10 and recently sent seven coaches to take their Level 1 certification training, with plans to send more in the near future.
Rachel Marraty is one of those, although she’s pretty new to the gymnastics coaching scene, having started with PRGA in February, but it’s easy to tell how great she is with the kids.
The 19-year-old was a dancer for 13 years and said she loves the new equipment and wishes it had been around when she was growing up. It certainly helps her coach the many young gymnasts.
“It really helps them grow because it’s easier for us to explain things and teach them how to do things instead of the old beams that they had. You couldn’t really show them how to do things because they weren’t really safe and we didn’t have bars so we couldn’t work on bars or a real trampoline or vault,” she said.
Now the kids are able to be coached in all aspects of gymnastics.
“There’s no way they could have been competitive before or even work towards that if we didn’t have this,” Marraty said.
To her, the donated money for equipment tells her that PRGA has proven to the community that the club grows fast and gymnastics is something Prince Rupert needs.
Young gymnasts enthused
With several mini trampolines, one big trampoline, new bars and beams and so much more, the 200+ members of the gymnastics club are much more entertained as they train.
“I think the equipment is really fun and I like it,” said Genevieve Lehnert.
The nine-year-old said she likes all the new equipment, and doesn’t have a favourite part, but it’s made coming to gymnastics even more fun.
“It’s been lots of fun,” Lehnert said, who comes to gymnastics four times a week.
Jenaya Cruz echoed her statements as she took a break from her stretches.
“The new equipment is good,” she said with a shy smile.
Cruz comes twice a week and her favourite part of the refurbished gym is pretty much the same answer all the kids say.
“The trampoline is my favourite, because it’s fun,” Cruz said.
With 220 members already and boasting a sparkling new gym that’s so much fun for the kids, PRGA is sure to grow in the coming seasons, if not by word of mouth from these passionate kids alone.
Then and Now
Some of the gymnasts have been a part of the club since the early days and tell a story of the night and day difference at PRGA.
“It was sort of boring because we only had a little bit of stuff,” said eight-year-old Isobella Norman, who has been taking gymnastics for four years.
Emma Touchet has also been there since the beginning.
“It was different than using the new equipment. The old equipment was really old, it was at the civic centre when we got there. We would have to set it up every time we went there and take it down every time. This time, we don’t have to set it up and take it down, we just got to leave it there,” she said.
Touchet said she couldn’t help feeling excited the first time she used the new equipment and her favourite part is bars.
The old equipment was no match for what they have now, said Kaiya Robin.
“It was not as fun as the new equipment,” she said, adding the museum is much better than at the civic centre.
Robin started gymnastics when she was four-years-old and said the new equipment makes it easier to learn how to do everything.
Looking to the future
The gymnastics club has already grown so much, but the board has dreams of even more.
“We’ve already seen how it has positively impacted our club by the growth in membership. I think we had about 70 members when we began in the civic centre, now we’re at 220 members,” Toye said.
“We are able to offer gymnastics throughout the day, we offer parent and tot, we offer homeschool programs and we’d like to offer special needs programs,” she said.
PRGA is also set to launch its first competitive program in Prince Rupert in 25 years. Tyrwhitt is heading that up, already in the process of testing the gymnasts to see who is ready to go competitive.
“We see great potential and we also see the ability to get into competitive streams and have other clubs come down and us go and compete with other clubs in our region,” Toye said.
With all that the Prince Rupert Gymnastics Association has already achieved in record time, who knows what lies ahead and what it could accomplish by next month or next year? Impossible means nothing to this group.