As the world watches on, cheering for their respective Olympians in London, the gymnastic competitions undoubtedly continues to garner the most unrivaled public interest.
But for most of those Olympic hopefuls, their medal-driven journey starts years earlier, with a big dream and at a small gym, much like the in Dayton.
It’s Tuesday evening at the academy and center stage, a tween sports a purple leotard and a look of unshakeable concentration during a private lesson. Only seconds later, she breaks into full sprint and her small frame explodes into a series of mid-air flips.
Coming squarely to a stop, she appears relieved, even surprised by her performance. Academy Director Art Pelzer, who’s studying her every turn, couldn’t look prouder.
“No one really takes to it like a duck to water,” he says. “It takes a lot of dedication and time.”
Considering his background, Pelzer would know.
Although the academy dates back 25 years, Pelzer first happened on the sport decades earlier during his boyhood in a South Philadelphia neighborhood. He was in the first wave of students to participate in a newly established, Temple University-endorsed, high school gymnastics program.
Organizers of that program recognized Pelzer’s potential early on as the young athlete found his greatest bearings on the pommel horse and in the rings competitions.
Eventually, Pelzer evolved into a collegiate gymnast at East Stroudsberg University, where he graduated from in 1982. When his college career was winding down, Pelzer began working with world-renowned athletes, including some well-know Olympians of the time, at the International Gymnastics Camp in Pennsylvania.
“The gym is really more than a gym,” Pelzer said. “It’s really a way to get good physical education. You can use that as a foundation in all sports.”
That’s the drive behind the business model here at Cranbury Gymnastics Academy; a no-pressure approach to the sport that stresses health and fitness to the large student base that continues to walk through the doors.
“Today’s parents want a more well-rounded child,” he said. “But demands at other schools are high and they want too much. With each individual parent, we find out what they want for their children.”
While many parents are seeking out an extra-curricular activity, more and more doctors are beginning to prescribe gymnastics to treat everything from low muscle tone and balance issues to autism, Pelzer said.
Pelzer, who has worked alongside autistic children at the Princeton Child Development Institute and the Eden Institute, welcomes that diversity to his school.
“Students gravitate toward the sports that they like,” Pelzer said. “I tend to try to encourage students in whatever direction they want to go.”
For students with both the drive and talent, that direction can all too often lead to fierce competition.
In fact, over the course of the past decade, the academy has produced several state champions, adding trophy after trophy to an ever-growing collection, he said.
That’s largely due to the fact that Pelzer’s formula for success remains unchanged regardless of the class, which ranges from beginners to advanced, and from parent-child sessions to a competitive team.
“We focus on education, strength and flexibility,” he said. “If I can instill something in them right now…it’s about going to the gym and staying healthy.”
For more information about the Cranbury Gymnastics Academy, call 609-395-1416, log into www.cranburygymnasticsacademy.com or stop by its 12 Stults Road location in suite 111.
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