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Tokyo Olympics boosts business for Eastern Iowa gymnastics centers
Gym owners continue to adjust amid COVID-19 pandemic, changing mask viewpoints
More than 6,000 miles away from the actual Summer Olympics, Iowa Gym Nest in Coralville had its own Olympics competition.
The high jump required jumping over a mat into the foam pit.
The javelin throw involved pool noodles.
The Coralville gymnastics center gave medals to children who completed all the activities and filled their Olympics passports.
“We had originally printed 50 of the passports and then we printed more and we printed more,” said Paige Roth, Iowa Gym Nest owner. More than 100 children showed up.
Iowa Gym Nest and other gymnastics centers in Eastern Iowa have noticed an uptick in business following this year’s Olympics in Tokyo.
“We’ve had a nice, steady increase in calls and even enrollments for the fall,” said Robin Joens, the owner of Somersaults Gymnastics Center in Cedar Rapids.
Joens said she usually sees an extra 20 to 30 percent of students shortly after the Summer Olympics.
John Mangold, the owner of Twisters Gymnastics in Cedar Rapids, also has seen a “big push” in registrations ahead of fall sessions that begin at the end of August.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if it had something to do with the Olympics,” Mangold said.
It’s not a unique phenomenon to the Corridor.
“Across the country when we have meetings and conferences with other gym owners, it’s pretty typical that everybody talks about the Olympic bump,” Joens said, “especially in years when our teams are doing really well and have someone to follow like Simone Biles or, in the past, Gabby Douglas or (Des Moines native) Shawn Johnson.”
Not every gymnastics center in the Corridor that saw a 2016 boost was around for the 2021 boost, though.
CRAG Gymnastics closed shortly after the pandemic started after the owners’ son graduated from college and moved to Florida. Now the owners work with Mangold at Twisters and have more flexibility.
“We had talked for years about how great it would be to work together,” Mangold said.
Eyas Gymnastics also closed after the University of Iowa cut its men’s gymnastics program. The owner, Doni Thompson, is the wife of ex-UI men’s gymnastics coach J.D. Reive.
The post-Olympics boost comes amid a challenging year for the gymnastics centers still open.
Iowa Gym Nest went from having about 1,000 students per month before the pandemic to 175 in May 2020.
“We've been working our way back up from there,” Roth said.
Mangold said the school year usually is Twisters’ busiest season, but this year it’s been the summer as people seek some pre-COVID-19 normalcy.
Owners have needed to come up with new safety policies as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves, though.
“We changed how we did everything,” Joens noted.
She had to change activities to ensure social distancing among children. Instead of scrubbing the mats “at least once a week,” Somersaults has cleaned the mats after every session.
Iowa Gym Nest has similarly ramped up sanitation practices. That has come at a cost, though.
“We’ve had to replace quite a bit of equipment because the cleaning solution just degrades a lot of the mats that go under the equipment,” Roth said.
Iowans’ strong sentiments about mask-wearing has made developing new safety protocols more complicated, gym owners said.
“You’re kind of stuck between, ‘We’re not going to come if you make us wear a mask,’ or, ‘We’re not going to come if nobody's wearing a mask,’” Joens said.
“How do you juggle that?”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends mask use indoors in counties with “substantial” or “high” levels of community COVID-19 transmission, including Linn and Johnson counties and 91 of Iowa’s 99 counties.
It’s been more difficult to ask for mask compliance since Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a law banning school districts and communities from implementing mask mandates in May, Joens and Roth said.
“That very same day, probably 90 percent of the kids walked in without masks because they assumed, ‘If I don’t have to wear it at school, I don’t need to wear it here, either,’” Joens recalled.
Roth knows she still technically can require masks as a private business, but Reynolds’ messaging “really tied my hands quite a bit.”
That hasn’t stopped her from continuing to ask for mask use and doing what she can to keep everyone safe.
“I’m vaccinated, but I wear a mask just because my conscience would not be able to handle it if I unknowingly infected one of my students,” Roth said.
The challenges of COVID-19 aside, Roth is looking forward to teaching more students who perhaps gained interest in her sport during the Olympics.
“I hope we can continue to get some positivity from the Olympics that helps people realize it’s very important for the kids to be active and physically fit,” Roth said.
“And we can help provide that in a fun, safe atmosphere.”
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