The women behind Longford Gymnastics Club. Pictured are: Barbara Smyth, Siobhán Brier, Sarah Heneker, Kristina Vravcova, Sylvia Johnston, Victoria Brown, Ciara Brier and Heather Smyth. Missing from picture: Senior Coach Margaret Brennan
The last 18 months have been filled with ups and downs for sports clubs and organisations but Longford Gymnastics Club has certainly made the best of a bad situation.
For three years, the club campaigned for LEADER funding to establish Longford’s very own gymnastics club.
The road was long and filled with twists and turns but after stellar effort by all involved and the help of Longford County Council who provided €7,500 match funding, as well as Longford Community Resources Ltd. who successfully guided and mentored the managment team through the LEADER funding process, the club finally opened its doors in March 2020.
The club successfully raised almost €94,000 leading to the establishment of its own dedicated gymnastics club in Mastertech Business Park, Longford.
“It has been a rollercoaster year and a half for us. On March 7th 2020, with huge joy we opened our doors for the first time after three years of campaigning and fundraising,” Co-director Barbara Smyth told the Longford Leader.
It was less than a week before the club had to shut down again as lockdown took effect thanks to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, which had just started to take hold of the country.
“On March 11th 2020 the Covid-19 pandemic saw us close our doors. It was a devastating blow to us, however, it was vital we protected our gymnasts and coaches,” said Ms Smyth.
“In the last year and a half due to on and off closures we have only been open for 25 weeks. During that period, like many businesses, there were many times we were extremely concerned for our future.
“However, we have to pay huge thanks to all our gymnasts, parents and guardians and our coaches who stuck with us and our membership has grown to just over 500 gymnasts.
“We have had to close our waiting list for the moment due to the sheer number of children seeking places.”
Good news indeed for a club that had a rocky start during the pandemic but not surprising considering the amount of talent in the organisation.
Currently, the managment and coaching team is made up of co-directors Barbara Smyth and Siobhán Brier, with a stellar coaching team made up of all women. But that doesn’t mean the club is exclusively for girls.
“We also have a growing boys membership. Some of them are just incredible. Definitely a Rhys McClenaghan in there somewhere,” said Ms Smyth.
The training team at the moment includes senior coach Margaret Brennan, who brings a lifetim of experience to the club. She has trained many medal-winning gymnasts, bringing them to competitions in Belgium, the UK and Russia.
Sarah Heneker has been a gymnast since primary school, is a qualified childcare assistant and SNA, has a great passion for gymnastics and loves to see her students progress and gain new skills while having fun.
Professional ice skater Kristina Vravcova has 18 years of experience. She is trained in gymnastics, ballet and acrobatics and has coached ice skating for five years. She now has her dream job, coaching gymnastics in county Longford.
Sylvia Johnston fell in love with gymnastics while at school right here in Longford and has competed in many competitions.
She also performs with several local arts and musical groups and loves her work as a coach.
An active gymnast since primary school, Victoria Browne is keen to help all her students to reach their own goals and build their confidence. She enjoys nothing more than seeing every gymnast having fun while learning and progressing their skill.
Ciara Brier and Heather Smyth are Level 4 gymnasts and are currently training for national competitions. They’re also trainee coaches under the Gymnastics Ireland coaching programme.
There are classes to suit children of all ages, taking place after school time and continuing into the evening.
Coaches are continuously monitoring each child’s progress and as they develop with practice and ongoing training, they progress to be in the most apporpriate class time and group to match their ability.
This makes sure that each child gets the best possible experience and learns in a way that is reflective of their stage of development as a gymnast as well as ensuring that they enjoy the experience while spending time with their friends and making new friends.
“When we opened we were a three day a week club,” Ms Smyth explained.
“We have now increased that to four days per week and look forward to becoming a full time club in the future. Our gymnasts range in age from five to 17.
“We recently opened a dedicated beginner training for teenagers which is very popular. All our gymnasts are progressing very well and we have now introduced a development class for those ready to progress their level of skills.
“It really is an incredible thing to see a beginner gymnast who has never been on beam, go from cartwheels on the floor, to seeing them land a cartwheel on the beam in such a short period.
“I can assure you, the talent we have here in Longford Gymnastics Club is in abundance.
“Currently our gymnasts are taking part in the Gymnastics Ireland Skillsfest Challenge that is being held over the summer months and they are all doing brilliantly.
“Our intention going forward, once health restrictions allow, is to invite our gymnasts to inter club competitions, Community Games and national competitions in the National Sport Campus in Dublin, proudly flying the Longford flag,” she concluded.
All information on the club and the class schedule can be found on longfordgymnasticsclub.com
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