Michigan gymnasts training in Indiana with closed facilities

Posted at 11:42 PM, Jul 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-06 23:42:35-04

HOLLAND, Mich. — As gyms remain closed, some of West Michigan's most competitive gymnasts are heading to Indiana for training. A team in Holland is also practicing outside without their normal equipment. Even with those arrangements, athletes worry they could miss out on college scholarships and fall behind as other nearby states' gyms are permitted to be open.

Champion Gymnastics USA in Holland has been closed since March. Within the past month, coaches have been traveling down to Indiana with their most elite gymnasts to get in about two practices per week. Even then, the gymnasts say they are only maintaining their physical abilities. The lack of practice has stopped them from gaining any new skills they could use in competition. When outside, they can only tumble on mats.

"There is no where we can get the equipment that we need, like we can lay out mats like this. At home, some people have really small, short balance beams but really there is no way to duplicate it. It’s really hard," said Stephanie Lebster, a level 10 gymnast who trains at the facility. "It’s basically 4 months out of the year doing nothing, gymnastics wise. Just keeping up with strength and stuff."

Lebster and her sister are both vying for college scholarships. Typically, this is the time when coaches would be looking at training videos and recruiting athletes to their programs.

"They are sort of running out of time, so they need to get in there and get on the equipment," said Lebster's mother, Cathy, who has supported her children's decision to travel to Indiana for practice. "They’re used to practicing five days a week, four hours a day. So three hours twice a week (in South Bend) isn't cutting it. It just isn’t what this sport demands."

In other nearby states, gymnasts have been allowed to return to the gym. In Michigan, Governor Whitmer has stated gyms will be one of the last facilities to open, permitted only in Phase 5. Currently, the state is in Phase 4.

Head coach Tami Schaafsma has been coaching some of the gymnasts for years.

"It’s become increasingly difficult for our kids, just knowing that other states and other gyms are practicing. They’re falling further behind in that process. So I would say the longer it’s gone on, the harder it is for us to stay competitive in that process," said Schaafsma.

The athletes, parents and coaches have been trying to convince Governor Whitmer to re-open for gymnastics training. They say they would only allow a handful of athletes in at once and have the necessary cleaning products to keep everyone safe. Currently, they come under the same umbrella as public gyms under the released plan by the Governor's office.

"We really feel like we are being put in with other businesses that don’t have the safety protocol or the control that we have. So our hope is that somebody looks at our sport specifically and sees that we are able to do this safely," said Schaafsma.

They have written to the Governor, urging her with data to have more dialogue. At this time, they have not received a response.

Northern Michigan's gyms remain open, but FOX 17 was told only a handful of facilities are located there.