A former Astoria auto dealership is getting a new life as home to the region’s only gymnastics program.
Nancy Taylor, a former high school dance coach, recently opened Infinity Gymnastics Academy in the former Lum’s Auto Center at 16th and Exchange streets.
Taylor had been helping teach a weekly, two month gymnastics circuit in the Seaside School District with physical education teacher Brian Sigler.
“Every time, we were just always talking about how we couldn’t believe there was no gymnastics anywhere around here,” she said. “And the kids loved it when we had our little circuit in PE, but they had nowhere else to go to do it. That was it, for two months … one day a week.”
The closest gymnastics programs besides Infinity are in Hillsboro and Rainier. There had not been a gymnastics gym on the North Coast for more than a decade when Taylor, an experienced instructor in piano, dance, gymnastics and CrossFit, decided last year to put the word out. She sent flyers to local schools before holding an open house at Valhalla Combat martial arts academy in Gearhart to gauge interest.
“I had 250 kids, so that was my sign,” she said.
After holding a summer camp in Gearhart, she started Infinity Gymnastics on the basketball courts of the Astoria Armory in January. The space was a good stepping stone, but she needed a dedicated space her bulky and expensive equipment wouldn’t have to set up and torn down.
One of Taylor’s students was the daughter of John and Lori Lum Toyooka, whose family runs Lum’s Auto Center and owns their former dealership across Exchange Street from the Armory. The building, once rumored to be a part of a possible housing development, had most recently played host to the Clatsop County Sheriff’s Office’s parole and probation division.
“It’s just a good fit,” John Toyooka said of Infinity, lauding the exercise and social interaction inherent in gymnastics.
Infinity is a nonprofit overseen by a five-member board meeting quarterly. Taylor learned about the model when coaching for Riverside Gymnastics Sports & Arts in The Dalles.
“They were able to cater to so many more kids and have them be a part of their program because of that,” Taylor said.
Infinity offers baby to teen classes, along with tumbling, cheerleading and a special needs program for students with disabilities. The school has two students on scholarship but is pursuing grants to add more subsidized slots and help cover operating costs.
Four adult coaches and four assistants from local high schools lead kids through classes in padded beginner rooms and, for the more advanced pupils, a harder, higher set of bars, beams and a trampoline in an adjacent concrete-floored gym. Doug Oldham, one of the adult coaches, used to lead competitive gymnastics teams in Alaska, but said he was also drawn to the recreational side and how it can help kids.
“It’s the smiles on the kids’ faces when they accomplish something they’ve worked so hard to do,” he said. “It’s about self-motivation.”
Infinity has about 100 students, split almost evenly between boys and girls and mostly between the ages of 3 and 9. Competition is governed by USA Gymnastics, which has established 10 skill levels from rookie to elite.
“We’re recreational, so we’re not going by the competition levels, but we are learning the skills,” Taylor said. “And that is one of our goals, to become competitive.”
One of Infinity’s assistant coaches, Astoria track star Darian Hageman, has reached level nine in gymnastics, slightly below the proficiency needed to try out for the Olympic team. Trying to follow in her footsteps is 11-year-old Madilyn Ericson, one of Taylor’s top students.
Ericson met Taylor at the gymnastics unit in Seaside. After seeing a video of a 3-year-old Olympic gymnast, Ericson went home and started teaching herself.
“I just watched tutorial videos on YouTube,” Ericson said. “It’s really cool. I do much better in PE.”
Her mother, Gina Ericson, said her daughter now practices up to three hours a night.
Beyond any competition, Taylor sees gymnastics as a confidence-builder, well-suited for the North Coast.
“I hope this is a place where kids can come and be dry and get exercise, because it’s just so rainy here, and there’s not a lot you can do outside,” she said. “And we don’t have enough stuff around here, activities for kids indoors.”