Amid COVID-19, Gymnastics facilities in jeopardy, gymnasts losing competitive edge in WA State

For more than eight weeks, Sandy Flores has stared at an empty gym.

60-thousand square feet at Emerald City Gymnastics in Redmond – with no gymnasts and no revenue.

“Even being closed, our expenses are close to $70,000 a month with no employees,” Flores said. “We have lost close to $750,000 of income since we have been shut down by the state.”

The paycheck protection program limits just 25% of funds be used toward rents, and large gymnastics facilities with massive rent like Emerald City or AGA Gymnastics in Tacoma aren’t allowed to open until Phase Three in Washington State, which might not come until July.

“The financial part of this is that our rent is so large and many of these companies are not providing any kind of assistance,” said Nicole Elves of AGA Gymnastics Northwest.

For Elves, Flores and around 74 similar clubs throughout the state, the frustration extends to the inability to open their doors to gymnasts who need their facilities to train.

“We have a sport where unless you have access to this equipment, they can't do their skills. And it's not safe,” Elves said.

“It’s hard. The time away has been detrimental to my gymnastics career,” said 15-year-old Amanda Hargraves, who trains at Emerald City.

The time away has become a competitive disadvantage for gymnasts like Hargraves or Shobhana Spielmann, who have dreams of college scholarships.

“It'd be really nice to go back because then we get to work on all the skills that I lost over break,” Spielmann said.

“Without the hours, you are definitely falling behind other athletes,” said Brian Muenz, a coach at Emerald City Gymnastics Academy.

Especially athletes from states with different rules.

“I've been writing Jay Inslee every day saying just let me have six kids. That's 10,000 square feet per kid in this building and let them train,” Flores said.

Elves says she even met with infectious disease experts to create gym standards to help the industry open safely, including appropriate spacing and sanitizing.

“Both of them on record have said we would be comfortable sending our children to a gymnastic school if you follow this procedure,” Elves said.

Still, no movement from the state.

“This has been the hardest hit,” Flores said. “And we’re not like restaurants where we can serve food curbside. We haven’t been able to do anything. We just want a chance to survive. Our whole industry is at risk right now.”

Added Elves: “When you’re watching the Summer Olympics and you see those girls, they weren’t created in a factory or one gym. Those girls were training and brought up in programs right down the street from everybody.

“We have to support each other or our industry is really gonna take a hit.”

The governor’s office said they are considering these types of requests and working with public health and safety experts to evaluate them on an on-going basis. They also referred to the Safe Start WA Plan, which says the list of industries in each phase can be subject to change.