I walk up to the edge of the mat in my bare feet.
On the floor in front of me is a long, bouncy tumble track, essentially a rectangular trampoline, with a large pit at the opposite end filled with blue foam squares.
In a minute, I will be expected to do some kind of display of gymnastics down the track in front of a crowd.
Did I mention the last time I did gymnastics was more than 20 years ago?
“No pressure,” said Donna Katz, with a smile. She owns Genesis Gymnastics in Bradford West Gwillimbury, where I am getting a first-hand look at the business.
Katz calls out to a young gymnastics student to demonstrate some moves for me.
The girl bounces down the track and flips and spins all around, and I laugh. How am I going to pull that off without looking like a fool?
Thankfully, Katz then calls out to an even younger student to demonstrate some easier moves. The little girl bounces with her feet together and arms in the air all the way down the track.
I say a silent prayer to the gymnast gods — I can definitely handle just bouncing.
Before I take my inaugural bounce, a crowd of children — all there for a summer camp — start cheering me on.
“You can do it!” screech the little boys and girls.
With the world’s most adorable cheerleaders egging on this 33-year-old with a bad back, I bounced down the tumble track with my arms high in the air and a smile plastered across my face. At the end, I jumped into the foam pit.
Unexpectedly, pulling myself out of the super soft foam pit was actually the hardest part of that entire routine.
Afterward, Katz takes me over to the balance beams.
“I’m not known for my balance,” I said, as I climb onto the one closest to the ground.
I walk heel to toe down the beam with no trouble and hop off, relieved.
I have lived to tell the tale, and I am officially impressed with the gymnastics students there who are braver than I and can flip their way around the facility — or even just give it their best shot.
Helping kids grow their confidence is a big part of why Katz opened Genesis Gymnastics at 401 Dissette St.
“My goal was not competitive. That is a whole other monster,” she said. “My goal was for kids to have a place to get fit, have fun, develop independence, self esteem, (and) do something a little scary but do it anyway.”
As a kid growing up in Etobicoke, Katz fell in love with gymnastics after watching Olga Korbut in her gold medal-winning Olympics debut in 1972, and Nadia Comaneci score the first perfect 10 in Olympic history in 1976.
“I was like them. I was tiny; I was smaller. The things they were doing were mindblowing to me,” she said. “They were revolutionary in how they transformed the sport. The way kids train now is because of them.”
A flip Korbut did at the 1972 Olympic Games — a back handspring off the uneven bars — is now banned for being too dangerous.
While Katz idolized these gymnasts, she did not have the resources when she was a kid to follow in their footsteps. Instead, she competed briefly in high school.
Later in life, her daughter competed in gymnastics. To pay for her classes, Katz got a job as the director of that gymnastics program in Richmond Hill, where kids took gymnastics at different levels — from recreationally, to training for Olympic trials.
Katz said she eventually realized many people were travelling from BWG to other communities for gymnastics classes, so she decided to open Genesis Gymnastics in 2013.
Her daughter also now coaches competitive gymnastics in Alliston.
“Once it’s in your blood, it’s there forever,” Katz said.
At Genesis, “artistic gymnastics” students get a watered down version of what competitive students would learn, she said.
They have access to all the equipment on the 12-by-12-metre floor space, which itself has a bounciness to it — tumble track, trampoline, balance beams, uneven bars, traverse rock climbing wall, vault, rings, and more.
About 90 per cent of the equipment comes from Spieth America in Orillia, Katz said.
“Anything that can develop muscle. The more we can develop them physically, the more they can do. Everyone thinks they’re going to get it like that,” she said, snapping her fingers.
She said she tells students if they want to learn how to do something new in gymnastics to write down the number 1,000 and then give the move a try. Then each time they try it, they go down a number.
By No. 1, the student should have the move down pat.
“Before you’re actually going to get it, it teaches them a bit of a work ethic,” she said.
These days, she added, society protects kids from failure, but failing can be a good thing.
“Nobody wants them to fall. Nobody wants them to fail. That’s not real life,” she said. “The best thing they can do is fall off that beam and get up again.”
Katz accepts students from 18 months old to adults. She also offers advanced classes, which can be helpful for people who want to learn some gymnastic skills for dance classes, she said.
Genesis Gymnastics’ fall programming will start Sept. 4, with a new dry land cross-training class for hockey and soccer players to start in October.
Gymnastics gets a bad reputation for being just for girls, Katz said, but boys can benefit from classes where they learn things like co-ordination.
“The fittest athletes in the world are male gymnasts,” she said.
Also on Katz’ radar is a ninja program involving obstacle courses.
Beyond gymnastics classes and summer camps, Genesis Gymnastics also offers birthday parties, monthly cartwheel clinics, adult drop-in classes on Sundays, holiday camps, and private one-on-one classes for kids with special needs.
The business is open seven days a week, and Katz offers her own report card system for students.
There is also a viewing area with couches and chairs for parents to watch their kids during classes, and some former students are now returning as coaches.
“It’s awesome. I love it. I’ve done something people really like,” she said. “It’s all about developing a love for the sport. If they don’t love it, they’re not going to stay in it.”