I would like to thank someone. Her name is Irene Poole and she’s my daughter’s gymnastics coach. This picture is their team Acromax, taken at the Christmas party and show tonight.
Peggy’s on the left. Casually doing the splits, as you do.
The reason she can do them like that, is because she’d been training with Irene since she was five years old.
In that time she’s not only learned to do a perfect cartwheel, a walkover, a flick, a one-handed cartwheel and many more amazing moves, she’s learned the discipline of commitment and the joy of being part of a team.
Three times a week Peggy goes to Irene’s sessions, during which Irene and her daughter Libby (below), a very talented choreographer (and dancer and former champion gymnast), coach all these kids.
I love watching Irene teach, because she treats all the kids the same, whether they are naturally talented or gangly galumphers. Every correction is made with a joke and a smile.
She’s firm with kids who fool about (like my daughter…) but if a child shows commitment to training, they get it back double from Irene.
Every year the team does displays at local events and they’ve won loads of awards. Acromax sweeps the board every year at the East Sussex championships. I’m very proud that Peggy has won silver and bronze medals there. That’s a self-esteem boost she never would have had without Irene and Libby.
The training has also set her up with a six pack which should guarantee her good abs for life.
But most of all belonging to Irene’s team has given Peggy a sense of belonging to a tight-knit gang. When she’s had tricky times at school, gym has been a wonderful alternative support network making her feel appreciated and wanted. She has real friends there.
I also love the way the group is a such a mixture. There are kids from five up to twenty something and they all muck in together. They’re all different shapes and sizes – you don’t have to be a tiny stick insect to excel with Irene, some of the most talented gymnasts have strong bodies, not little skinny ones.
The kids also come from very varied backgrounds and their skin colour ranges from the palest red-head white (Irene’s fabulous granddaughter, Tamsin, who’s in the middle doing the splits), through all shades of pink, caramel and coffee, to chocolate.
At Acromax, none of that matters. There’s a place for everyone willing to commit seven hours a week to training. What they get back from that is priceless.
Irene – and Libby – thank you, from a very grateful mum.
Irene’s grandson, Andy Poole, holding his great mate Jack on his shoulders here, is training in sports gymnastics at a very high level.
You don’t like to favour any of the team above others, but it’s a real privilege to see him in action at the group’s events – and UK readers may be able to see him soon on Britain’s Got Talent, as he’s made it through to the first round. Go Andy!
Here’s a very small clip of him in action.