Gosport's Suki shows that gymnastics doesn't have to '˜stretch' the bank balance
There's not a single person who can't appreciate the graceful moves that gymnasts can pull off.
Their balance, flexibility, as well as bravery, leaves jaws dropped when watching events such as the Olympics and the Commonwealth Games.
Even at lower levels, gymnasts at the ages of four and five can pull off tricks that some of us could never imagine doing.
And, they aim to inspire and develop every person who walks through the door, no matter what age they are.
Aerobic gymnastics, formerly known as sport aerobics, originates from traditional aerobics in which high-intensity movement and elements are performed to music.
Founded in 2004, Suki runs classes for around four hours every night of the week at Brune Park Community School in Gosport and everyone is welcome to join in.
The club has forged a stellar reputation in Gosport.
It has more than 120 members, with many others on the waiting list wanting to join in with the hands-on lessons taught.
But the biggest challenge for the club is funding.
Head coach Natalie Porter was once a Great British athlete and retired at the tender age of 22.
She had a choice between carrying on her pursuit of being crowned world champion in her sport or helping to inspire generation after generation and hope that one of her protégés would surpass her – she chose the latter.
Natalie admits that Gosport isn’t the most affluent area in Hampshire and gymnastics can be expensive with the competitions and equipment.
But Suki does not want anyone to be penalised for not having the money to be able to take part.
And that’s why this year, it does not charge members for competitions.
Natalie says: ‘Letters would come through, one for me and one for my mum.
‘My one would say congratulations I’ve made it on the team and I’m going to Japan, whereas my mum’s would say “we need £2,000 by the end of next month”.
‘At the end of the day, gymnastics is not cheap.
‘This year, all of the competition entry fees are being paid by the club on a trial basis.
‘Our first competition entry is £800 just to put the gymnasts in and then we all volunteer our time to go and coach the competition.
‘We are like a big family here and gymnastics is a discipline.
‘We are constantly fundraising whether it’s for that four-year-old or 30-year-old, and to put coaches on courses.
‘We appreciate parents haven’t got the money and it should just be that the parents who have the money get it.
‘My employers, CNL Management sponsors the club every Wednesday, which has enabled us to open three classes.’
Su Killeen, 51, director of Suki, adds: ‘Our main struggles are funding are space. We need our own dedicated premises.
‘I would love somewhere where I could go into any time I wanted.
‘But our biggest goal was to make the club as affordable as possible for everyone.
‘It is a continuous cycle trying to find the coaches and space.
‘It is all worth it in the end. I say, if you can make me cry, you have reached the pinnacle. Our aim now is to keep the club flowing and keep the progression going, as well as getting children confident.
‘Not everyone is going to carry on with gymnastics for the rest of their life, but they will learn life skills.’
Natalie gives up all of her weeknights to help out members of Suki.
While others are at home watching the soaps or the latest drama, she is teaching her students how to perfect their moves – and she says every minute is worth it.
Natalie says: ‘What I really love about us is that if a gymnast wants to come in, get fit and improve their balance, they can.
‘If they want to come just to make friends or work towards the GB squad that is an option.
‘We have a good committee and Su has been teaching children in the local schools to give them a chance.’
Winning as an individual is something that athletes will remember for a long time. But, as a coach, it is special in a different way.
Watching her students improve as weeks go on is what makes it worthwhile for Natalie.
‘I still love going back to competitions, standing at the side of the floor,’ she adds.
‘You still get nerves, but a different type of nerves. It’s really rewarding, just in a different way. We’re proud because we have coached them and got them to where they need to be, and we’ve put time in that gymnast.’
THE COACHES’ STORIES
Not all members of Suki will carry on aerobic gymnastics for the rest of their lives.
Some may go into other disciplines, while others may delve into different sport or hobbies.
But Katie Holder, 17, and Victoria Barrell, 18, have been with the club since its early days.
Both have progressed to compete at the highest level, which is the Federation of International Category and Gymnastics category and are now coaches at the club as their education has taken priority.
Katie, a sixth-form student at Bay House, ended her career by winning the British Championships.
‘Because I started at such a young age, I wanted to give something back to the club. When you’re coaching, you have to think about others a lot more.
‘I am more aware, looking around the whole of the gym, making sure everyone is doing what they’re supposed to be doing.
‘The British Championship win was amazing - you compete on a stage and the whole atmosphere was great.
‘I kind of always felt I would be a coach this young. If I was early to a session I would help with the little ones.
‘It’s nice seeing the little children going up each stage. Me and Victoria used to be like them so we know what they’re going through and how they’re feeling.
‘I want to be a midwife and gymnastics has helped me build relationships and friendships with people around you.’
Victoria adds: ‘I didn’t retire to coach as I’m going travelling but I missed it so much.
‘It’s about helping the younger gymnasts see to where I got and more.
‘I will miss it when I’m travelling and will look to stay involved when I’m in university.
‘My proudest moment was winning the Alex Strachan Cup - my first FIG win.
‘It was amazing.
‘I was so happy and it was so close between me and the second place.’
‘COME AND GIVE IT A GO’
No matter what your background is, you should come down and have a go.
That is the message from Amanda Ebbutt, Suki’s oldest member.
The 31-year-old says: ‘I grew up musical, not sporty at all.
‘It would be good if some more adults gave it a try.
‘This is very good for your fitness - out of all disciplines
‘You are never too old to give it a go as long as you have the right attitude.’
Amanda and Owen Beswick have been paired together and are training for their first competition together.
Owen, 18, says: ‘I went to watch Max Whitlock in London in 2012, which was really good.
‘I’m now hoping to start doing the pommel horse.
‘I’ve tried to get other people come down, males in particular, and they’ve pulled out at the last minute. But there’s no reason why they shouldn’t come. I absolutely enjoy coming here.’
Suki Aerobics Gymnastics
Website - sukiagc.clubbuzz.co.uk
Training - Monday to Friday: 4.45pm to 8.30pm
Contact details: [email protected]