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From Foreign Orphan to Confident Gymnast

One day Dad walks in to sign his boy up. Adopted from a European orphanage, the young boy, no more than 8 or 9, was physically and institutionally delayed, but so delightful and well behaved and thrilled to learn all he could. Dad put him in boys’ gymnastics, one of the most difficult classes we teach. What was he thinking?!

On day one, the class was collected and sent to run a warm-up circuit on the rod floor and tumbltrak. John (name changed) had never been on anything like this in his life. You would have thought he had stepped onto the moon! He was slower than the rest, but these boys were kind-hearted and accepted him with open arms.

After the stretch we went to rings. One of our staff lifted him up to the high rings and John panicked, for he didn’t have the grip strength to hold on and keep his body off the floor. It was the same at every event…p-bars, high bar, pommel horse… John had to be held in place and supported by a staff member. But he took his turn like every other kid in class and went through the exercises and progressions, though with considerable help.

Each week, he made more and more progress. He learned how to jump (literally), he gained the strength to hold himself up on every event, he learned to somersault and cartwheel, and his numbers increased during conditioning. More than anything, John was having FUN! His smile with each milestone was infectious!

One day the class did “cheater chin-ups” on uneven parallel bars, with legs hanging on the lower bar, reducing the body weight by a little more than half. John did 100 and asked Coach Britton if he could do even more!

A few weeks later, Dad came to the front desk to withdraw him from the program. As is our custom, I asked Dad if he was unhappy with the program in some way.

“Absolutely not,” Dad said, his voice quieting some.

Then he explained thoughtfully. When John first came to our gym, he had no business putting a baseball bat on his shoulder, because he didn’t have the strength to swing it or hold onto it if he did. He couldn’t join a soccer team because he couldn’t keep up with the other kids. But those things just weren’t true about John anymore. He was stronger, faster, more agile, and more confident. And Dad decided it was time to go see if there was something out there that John would love even more than gymnastics.

“Go claim his childhood,” I told him.

And we both smiled and shook hands.

So what’s your GAR North story? Feel free to email us at and we would love to share it here!

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