In January 2016, River City Inclusive Gymnastics (RCIG) offered its first class to children with and without special needs. Liz Van Ness and Julie Dyke are two parents whose children participate in RCIG and have seen tremendous benefits from the program. Both Van Ness (mother of Graham, 10) and Dyke (mother of Jamie, 10) enrolled their children in the very first RCIG class, and have continued with the weekly classes ever since.
“Gymnastics is something Graham looks forward,” Van Ness says. “It has given him a lot of confidence.” The same can be said for Jamie, whose siblings have participated in other sports programs offered at River City Youth Fitness in Manakin Sabot (where RCIG meets). Now Jamie feels like she belongs at the gym too. Dyke explains, “She loves driving by and pointing out ‘her gym’”. Additionally, RCIG is a great fit for Jamie because it allows her to participate in a group activity without, “all the normal pressures that come with other organized sports,” Van Dyke says. RCIG classes function as a cross between a group and an individual activity. Students go through a series of obstacle courses together, but each can work at their own pace.
The format of each class does not vary week to week: students go through a series of three or four obstacle courses which last from 10-15 minutes each. The sequence of obstacles are always new, but many components (the balance beam, the trampoline, etc.) are present every week. This repetition not only helps students improve their skills, but the predictability provides security when new obstacles are introduced. Van Ness notes that Graham has become more open to new activities, and shows a willingness to trying things, even when he’s never seen or done them before. The obstacle courses, designed by Coach Michael McGrath and Coach Fletcher Hamblen, target both fine and gross motor skills. This combination keeps students engaged and challenged, as well as provide opportunities to exercise their entire bodies. It’s this challenge – of having to utilize both modalities – that has led Graham and Jamie to benefits that go beyond just physicality. According to their mothers, Graham and Jamie both have improved stamina, strength, balance, flexibility, focus, and listening skills.
What’s more, RCIG has become an outlet for parents. During classes, parents and caretakers can watch their children from a number of waiting areas both inside and outside the gym itself. “Knowing that my child is safe and having fun and that I don’t need to watch her every second is a nice,” Dyke says. This security allows parents a chance to talk and get to know new families. “It’s been a great resource,” Van Ness says, “Having a chance to talk to the other parents. Anything from, ‘This is the name of the dentist we use,’ or ‘Where should I take my kid to get a haircut,’ It’s been nice to have time to share information with each other.”
RCIG offers classes on Monday and Saturday and young adults on Wednesday. Fall enrollment is still open! You can find contact information and more about RCIG at their website: www.rcig.org.
Hanna McGrath received an MFA in fiction writing from The University of the South. She lives in Richmond, VA where she teaches creative writing to adults and teenagers.