Luke Anderson does spins on a 'mushroom' during adult gymnastics class at America's Best Kids in Medford.

Back in the swing

Like most gymnasts of her generation, a young Christine Idiart emulated Mary Lou Retton and dreamed of the Olympics.

And like many a gymnast, Idiart quit the demanding sport in her teens to participate more fully in school and its athletic arena. But the pull toward gymnastics persisted.

"I've always loved the sport, and I always watch it when it's on (television)," says the Central Point resident. "I've kind of always wanted to get back into it."

At age 29, Idiart gets a second chance at gymnastics in a Medford class geared specifically to adults who spent their childhoods tumbling, vaulting, balancing and swinging through the air. The class also gives newcomers to the sport a demanding exercise regimen unlike any they've tried.

"(It's) definitely the best core workout you could get anywhere doing anything," says 25-year-old Luke Anderson.

The venue is America's Best Kids, a popular youth sports center in Medford. But for one hour on Monday evenings, adults take over the 10,000-square-foot gym, its coaching staff and array of gymnastics apparatus. Students range in age from 18 to early 50s. Some have no prior experience; others once competed in gymnastics, says ABK general manager Chris Blache. Still other participants want to capitalize on flexibility earned through yoga or to hone acrobatic skills for other sports, such as snowboarding.

"Adults that are 40 and under ... We're the generation that was watching X Games for the past 20 years," says Blache, adding that numerous requests caused him to start the class in March.

Idiart was frequenting ABK with her two children, ages 2 and 5, when she saw the announcement for an upcoming adults gymnastics class. The stay-at-home mom signed up with little concern for how much time had passed since she pursued gymnastics. After 15 years, Idiart could still execute a round-off back-handspring.

"That muscle memory is kind of still in you," she says. "You're not as flexible ... and I was really sore the next day.

"Now I'm trying to challenge myself to learn things ... I didn't really do before."

Ten years after he quit competitive gymnastics, Anderson says improved body strength quickly put him back in the swing on rings — usually considered the most difficult apparatus for men. With just a couple months' practice, Anderson says he's on the cusp of holding one of the most advanced ring maneuvers, known as "iron cross."

"Being a male gymnast is not really something you brag about," says the Medford mechanic. "Most people think it's stupid or feminine until they see it.

"For me, it's a really cheap adrenaline rush."

Stereotypes in gymnastics don't prevent first-timers from sampling the class, free of charge. Among them are 18-year-old Eagle Point residents Randy Hamm and Jake Ralph. While Anderson and other veterans back-flip across the springy floor, the two teens come close to completing cartwheels under instruction from Kedrin McCree and Nathan Pederson. The novice efforts elicit cheers from other participants.

"We all, like, stick together and help each other out," says 39-year-old Gary Graham of Rogue River. "There's always that fear element involved."

ABK coaches serve as spotters and arrange foam cushions for rough landings but admonish students to attempt brand-new skills. Printed instructions next to each apparatus help students develop mini routines.

"Really push yourself to see what you can achieve," says McCree. "It should hurt a little bit."

A sore foot couldn't keep 31-year-old Michelle Johannes, of Medford, from braving the uneven bars and her tricky transition into "mill circle," requiring a gymnast to heft one leg over the bar, situating it in the crook of her knee, before flipping forward.

"Point, point, point, point!" yells McCree, ignoring Johannes' bruised toes.

Jamming a toe for the second week in a row, Johannes spreads her legs wipe, swoops around the bar, half-twists and dismounts to the mat. Arms above her head, Johannes gives a victorious salute that rivals Olympic enthusiasm.

"Yea, I did it!" exclaims Johannes.

"It's getting your body to do what it used to do."

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