Once struggling Summerside gymnastics club sees resurgence after move to Slemon Park
SLEMON PARK — Alice Ma couldn’t imagine her life without gymnastics.
© Nancy MacPhee/Journal Pioneer
Nicholas Handrahan of Tignish works on perfecting a position on the rings during a recent practice. Handrahan is a member of the Summerside Saultos Gymnastics Club.
The 22-year-old started her career at age two with her hometown Summerside Saultos Gymnastics Club.
Now, she’s back at the club, this time as a coach.
“I love everything about the sport,” said Ma. “You get to flip around. You get conditioning, strength and flexibility.
“It’s just a sport that you kind of fall in love with.”
For 30 years, countless youngsters from throughout Prince County have, thanks to the Saultos club, fallen in love with the sport.
The club has, through the years, had its challenges, moving from the former CFB Summerside to Greenfield Elementary School and, two years ago, to its current home at the Canada Games Sports Centre in Slemon Park.
There for the past 20 years has been Freddy Martin, the club’s recreational consultant. He became involved in gymnastics in 1977, when it boomed after Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci won three gold medals at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, and became the first female gymnast to be awarded a perfect score of 10.
It was in 1992 that Martin, who first brought gymnastics to Borden and Kinkora, signed on with the Saultos.
At its peak, the club had more than 200 members. But, as space at Greenfield Elementary became an issue, programming was cut and numbers decreased.
The competitive component was dropped and, three years ago, the club had only 40 members. Those who wanted to compete had to travel to Charlottetown’s Island Gymnastics Academy.
But the move two years ago to Slemon Park has breathed new life into the club.
Membership now is at 170, with waiting lists for many programs, said Martin.
Ma, who left the club in Grade 6 to join the Island Gymnastics Academy, and former Charlottetown gymnast Jeff MacRae have been coaching with the Saultos since the move to Slemon Park.
“When I was young I was running around, jumping and climbing trees, so my parents wanted to put me in something that would keep me active,” MacRae said about how he got into the sport at age four. “It has taught me discipline and hard work.”
MacRae and Ma have both competed nationally, and MacRae has travelled to Europe and the United States to judge competitions.
But it’s working with up-and-coming Island gymnasts that they find most rewarding.
“With my boys’ group, we still have a small group, but they are coming along pretty good,” said MacRae. “All three of them qualified for Atlantics last year, and hope to do so again this year.
“A couple of them have an outside shot at the 2015 Canada Games if they really progress.”
Ma works with girls in the club’s recreational and competitive programs.
“It’s a great experience,” she said. “You learn and you keep learning. I love it. It’s probably the best job in the entire world.”
“I love everything about the sport. You get to flip around. You get conditioning, strength and flexibility. It’s just a sport that you kind of fall in love with.” Summerside Saultos coach Alice Ma
Martin said gymnastics is a sport for youngsters of all ages and skill levels.
“They become strong, co-ordinated and more powerful. . . and flexible, all qualities that will take them into sports later on,” said Martin. “I’ve seen kids start in junior high and become really good by Grade 12, girls and boys.
“The boys, the later they start obviously the stronger they are. They only mature when they are 20, 25 (years old), where the girls mature younger.”
Martin added participants set their own goals in gymnastics, and it’s more of an individual-oriented sport.
“It’s a confidence builder,” said Martin, who hopes to see the club continue to grow over the next five years. Currently, programming is offered six days a week and, with more coaches, it could easily grow to seven.
The club offers various recreational programs, starting for those as young as two; competitive programs and even an adult recreational program.
Since it began 30 years ago, hundreds, if not thousands, of youngsters have learned to work the vault, floor, balance beam, rings and parallel bars with the Saultos.
Ten-year-old Nicholas Handrahan of Tignish is one of those youngsters. He started gymnastics at age four, and before the competitive program was re-introduced in Summerside he made to trek to Charlottetown.
The youngster excels on the high bars and floor, and said the sport has taught him hard work and dedication.
When asked what he liked about the Saultos, Handrahan's reply was quick, “It feels like home here.”
A look at Summerside Saultos Gymnastics Club:
Summerside Saultos Gymnastics Club was established in 1982.
Club is currently a non-profit organization.
Programming starts at age two.
Operates out of a 7,000-square-foot facility in the Canada Games Sports Centre in Slemon Park.
One of two gymnastics clubs in the province to offer girls and boys’ programs.
Has eight adult coaches and four high school-aged coaches.
Now accepting registrations for boys and girls recreation classes as well as pre-school classes.
Registration forms available at the gym Monday to Friday from 3:30 to 7 p.m., or Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Term 2 starts on Nov. 26.