Leap Day
Piper Farina, 9, leaps on the balance beam on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024, at Gymnastics Academy of Rockford. (Photo by Kevin Haas/Rock River Current)
By Andrew Wright
Special to the Rock River Current
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ROCKFORD — When you enter the Gymnastics Academy of Rockford, a small vestibule with tables, chairs and a front desk might make you think you’ve walked into a typical office building.

But when you open the door to the gym, you feel transformed as you enter a realm with bright colors and dozens of young athletes bouncing, spinning and leaping from balance beams, brightly colored pads, trampolines and other gym apparatus. Flags from dozens of countries and also from colleges where former Gymnastics Academy members earned scholarships adorn the walls next to tall banners marking earned accolades and championship wins.

It’s a Willy Wonka experience, as if it were created by Simone Biles.

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Leap of Faith

Katlynn Landis, who took over ownership of Gymnastics Academy of Rockford in June 2022, is proud to continue the nearly 50-year legacy of this staple of the Rockford Community. Growing up in Rockford, Landis had been on the junior varsity drill team at Hononegah High School and a dancer at Edwards Dance Center in her youth, while her brother, Brandon, pursued tumbling competitions at the Gymnastics Academy.

Post-graduation, she pursued her degree in elementary and special needs education. Then Brandon encouraged her to return to Rockford with an opportunity to become a camp director at the Gymnastics Academy in 2019. From that start, Landis worked her way up through the front office to the position of general manager.

In 2022, the previous owner, Lori Aamodt, approached Landis to consider buying the business and becoming the next owner.

“When she sat me down (to make the offer), my jaw dropped,” Landis said. “I talked to my fiancé, and admitted that while it wasn’t what I’d gone to school for, I had to take this chance. I had to try, and I would be able to incorporate what I went to school for through the gym.”

Kaylee Smith, 11, leaps on the balance beam on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024, at Gymnastics Academy of Rockford. (Photo by Kevin Haas/Rock River Current)

Landis has had great support from her team and solid advice from Aamodt along the way. “Lori and our former general manager, Dawn, have been super helpful with the transition. They are still my go-to people when I have questions.”

And the current general manager, Michelle Alex, brings years of gymnastics experience to the team.

Big leap forward

Michelle Alex started doing gymnastics at age 3 . By the time she was 8, she had joined the Gymnastics Academy gymnastics and tumbling programs, competing until she turned 17.

“I loved it. My mom coached in the gyms where I was learning, and it was a huge part of my life,” Alex said.

Today, Michelle Alex is still engaged in sharing her love for gymnastics. Her brother, Matthew, is the head tumbling coach, and Michelle has been known to step in when a staff member is out.

“There are a lot of kids here with great potential. These kids have dedication, a drive to continue,” she said. “Some kids come here after watching YouTube videos and we work with them on fixing the techniques they taught themselves at home.”

And every time the Summer Olympics happen, the Gymnastics Academy sees a surge in new members. “The kids that see the Olympics and have ambition, they remind us that it’s never too late to start,” Alex said.

The best benefit to students, Alex suggests, is how they grow personally. “By instilling good sportsmanship, these kids are learning to be a good human. We coach them to be reliable, responsible. They do a lot of work in skills, but coaches take a lot of time to guide them to being a good person as adult.”

To Take the Leap

The Gymnastics Academy of Rockford offers classes for children from 9-months old all the way through 17 years old. Pre-school classes are focused on exploration with parents, called “Explore Play.” Parent-Tot classes continue through age 3 that focus on building a foundation, and direct instruction with classmates can start at 3, with both recreation and competition paths for students.

To sign up: call 815-654-3867, or visit gymnasticsacademyrockford.com

Featured leapers

We asked a few Gymnastics Academy of Rockford students to perform leaps for us for the photos for this story. Here’s more about them: 

Savannah Parker, 8, Piper Farina, 9, and Kaylee Smith, 11, answer questions from Andrew Wright on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024, at Gymnastics Academy of Rockford. (Photo by Kevin Haas/Rock River Current)

Savannah Parker – 8 years old

When did you start at Gymnastics Academy? 2 years old

What do you like about tumbling? “I get to do all the cool tricks.”

What’s your favorite trick? Back tuck.

Piper Farina – 9 years old

When did you start at Gymnastics Academy? 3 years old

What do you like about tumbling?Doing flips. I like to challenge myself.”

What’s your favorite trick? Double back flip.

Who is your favorite gymnast? Simone Biles

What are you doing at the next competition? “Level 6 skills – floor, beam, vault and bars.”

Kaylee Smith – 11 years old

When did you start at Gymnastics Academy? 3 years old

What do you like about tumbling? I like the beam, the bars and the floor routines.”

What’s your favorite trick? Double-full on the ground – it’s a double full twist in the air upside-down keeping a straight body

Who is your favorite gymnast? Gracie Kramer – her floor routine is my favorite.”

What are you doing at the next competition?Level 8 skills – I’m working on my handspring, front layout, front tuck.”

This article is by freelance journalist Andrew Wright. Email feedback to news@rockrivercurrent.com.

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