More Room for Gymnastic Expressions |

More Room for Gymnastic Expressions

Geraldine Haldner
Randi Foster practices her routine on a balance beam at the VRD gymnastics center in Avon.

The sign says the Vail Recreation District’s gymnastics program is housed here.

Vail Gymnastics? In Avon?

“The move has been positive in every way,” says David Ward, the program’s director, who joined the recreation district last fall, just when the future for the 200-student program began to look dimmer than it already had for some years.

Since the early 1980s, Vail’s gymnastics program had been housed on the second floor of the town of Vail’s Old Town Shop – a 2,000-square-foot, two-story storage barn that has seen better days.

Bound by a long-standing agreement to sell the gymnastic center’s home in West Lionshead to the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, town leaders had come up short with a temporary or permanent home for the program’s 200 students by last summer when the water and sanitation district wanted to exercise its right to buy the half-acre lot for $1.5 million.

Building a new 10,000-square-foot multi-purpose facility either at Red Sandstone Elementary School or on a vacant spot in Donovan Park, has been priced at $3.5 to $4 million dollars. In times of dwindling cash reserves for capital projects, Vail Town Council members hesitated to pile another public project onto their plate without a dedicated funding source.

They stalled on the sale of the lot, which the water district will use to expand its existing water treatment facility next door. For a while it seemed the gymnastics program may become homeless.

By late fall, the water district’s Rick Sackbauer finally found a way to make everyone happy – the town, the recreation district and most of all the gymnasts.

In cooperation with Vail Resorts, which depends on an expanded water treatment facility to serve its proposed new Lionshead developments, Sackbauer proposed a temporary move of the program to neighboring Avon. A win-win-win situation as he labeled it.

The water district agreed to pay a $20,000 relocation fee on top of the $1.5 million purchase price for the old town shop, while the town chipped in another $20,000, with that the recreation district renovated a 5,600-square-foot storage space in Avon owned by the ski company.

For 2003 and 2004, the gymnastics program has a home away from home – a solution that made some council members cringe in November when the sale of the old town shop became final.

“”In my opinion, it’s essential to keep as many recreational components as possible in Vail, including the gymnastics program,” said Vail councilman Chuck Ogilby. “I don’t want to see us any of our existing recreational uses and facilities leaving town. I think it is very important that Vail has a diversity in recreation and is seen as a vibrant recreation center.”

Councilman Greg Moffet, who had lobbied to set aside a space for gymnastics at Donovan Park, told his colleagues it was shameful to stall on a new multi-recreation facility, because it doesn’t serve a large number of children and an even smaller number from Vail itself.

“I worry about you saying (a gymnastics facility) serves only a small number of people. Based on that, we pull the plug on a fire station – there are only a few fires a year,” Moffet said in a comment that at the time miffed Vail firefighters, but according to Moffet only served to drive home the point that some projects must be built regardless of the number users and their origin.

While the council now has two years of breathing room to find funding and build a 10,000-square foot recreation facility, the Vail Gymnastics Center in Avon is a “perfect step in the right direction,” according to Ward, who has been coaching and training gymnasts since he gave up his own collegiate gymnastics career 11 years ago.

“The biggest problem that we had (in the old facility) was that we had an itty bitty facility and a limited amount of students and classes we could run,” he says, while proudly giving a tour through the temporary facility’s labyrinth of mats, trampolines, uneven bars and balance beams.

“Now we have a facility we can grow into. It wouldn’t be smart to go from 200 to 1,000 kids,” says the 33-year-old director, who came to Vail from Maryland.

“It wouldn’t be smart to try to go huge,” he says. “Here we can build up the program, include other disciplines like dance and martial arts and then go on to a larger facility.”

Ten-thousand square feet, Ward says would be ample room to “create a prominent facility” where children and adults would come for fun or to pursue perfect 10 scores in future Olympic games, as well as learn to dance, do martial arts, or take a self-defense or judo lesson.

Ward says he likes the Red Sandstone plan, “because all the facilities would already be there, children would be right there after school and there is plenty of parking.”

Parking is a big plus at the new facility as Ward repeatedly points out during a half-hour tour of the facility.

“Parking was definitely scary at times along the road,” he says of the limited space in front of the old town shop right along South Frontage Road.

The new facility isn’t only almost three times larger than the old one, it also sports 17-feet ceilings, almost six feet more than the old town shop.

“That is huge for us,” he explains. Tough the recreation district “ran a safe program” in the old facility, some of the program’s veteran gymnasts can finally somersault and vault to their full potential.

“It is like night and day,” says Tony Russo, 40, who has coached Vail gymnasts for the past 15 years. “I find that I can much better focus on an individual child in this bigger space, while others can do something different,” he says, his eyes never leaving the slightly shaky frame of 14-year-old Kendall Wilson, practising an exit off the balance beam.

“The kids get more out of each class, because we aren’t constantly setting up and breaking down (equipment).”

With a larger, brighter and better equipped facility it comes to no surprise that the program has grown by about 50 children, since its move to Avon Jan. 1.

“I got incredibly positive feedback from the parents,” says Ward, adding that maybe eight or 10 children from Vail have dropped out because of the driving distance. “We’ve lost some because of the driving distance. Some have parents who can’t work their schedule around it and who previously walked or biked to the town shop.”

With the new additions, Ward says the break-down of children served is about 40 percent percent from Vail, another 40 from Minturn, Avon and Eagle-Vail and about 20 percent from Edwards. Further west, Ward says new competing gymnastics programs take care of most the Vail Valley’s remaining children.

The growth is good and Ward hopes to further expand the programs to accommodate as many as 500 participants, from ages 3 to 55. ( An adult drop-in class has become increasingly popular with skiers and snowboarders practising aerial moves, Ward says.)

On this Tuesday evening, the 5,600-square-feet space is dominated by Caitlin Cerra, 14, Randi Foster, 13 and Wilson.

While Foster is practising her floor routine, Wilson is still beaming on the balance beam. A tall blonde, she chats easily while adjusting her wrist guards.

“The old place was cramped and messy and it was really loud. Sometimes it was hard to concentrate,” she says. “A longer drive it is,” she says, suddenly slipping into a very sophisticated alter-ego. “But it is worth it.”

Foster, who wants to join the circus when she grows up – “seriously” she says, with an intense look on her face – says the new facility is a lot less work but a lot more practise time.

“We don’t have to move stuff around constantly,” she says before flitting away to find the tape for her floor routine.

Cerra, who does gymnastics “just for fun” says the new equipment has made a difference along with the space. “Even if you are the same you were in the old place, you can get a lot better here faster,” she says, flopping down on a mat for a rest.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate the difference in the facilities is by comparing the location of Ward’s office.

“See that niche up there?” he asks pointing at an indentation in the wall about 6 feet above ground.

“That’s where my office was in the old place. We had to use a ladder to get in there. If you had stuff to carry in and out it became a regular exercise in balance.”

Geraldine Haldner can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 602, or at

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