Sunday, December 9, 2012

Gymnastics in the Dark

Alexis and Tony working on handstands
I've been wanting to write about our kids' gymnastics club and their teacher, Tony.  First, I'll tell you a little about Tony and his background in gymnastics.  Tony is in his early 30's, from Cross River State (southern Nigeria), and is build like the stereotypical gymnast - about 5'4" and thick as an ox.  Tony started training in gymnastics in Lagos, Nigeria when he was 7 years old.  Like most gymnasts throughout the world, Tony began training on mounds of grass and sawdust in a yard where furniture was built, or in the back of his school during recess and breaks on whatever sand was there.  Fortunately, Tony did not break his neck, back, or any other bone severely enough to hinder his further training and in 1996, Tony was discovered by a national gymnast who took Tony to the Lagos State Sports Council to train.  That same year, after only several months of training, Tony was selected to put on an exhibition for the Governor of Lagos.  A short time after the exhibition, Tony's coach passed away.  Later that same year Tony represented Lagos at the National Sports Festival and won his first gold medal - doing so for his late coach. 

Logan and Tony working on handstands at the National Stadium 
Even though Tony kept training on his own, in 2003 he also began to teach gymnastics at a couple schools in Lagos.  He also began working with the Lagos State Gymnastics Association to organize interschool gymnastics competitions in order to expose his students to an actual competition and help build up their self-confidence.

Alexis and her litte British and Australian friends - no electricity doesn't stop them!
Tony represented Nigeria in 2007 at the prime international gymnastics competition in Singapore.  Tony and the Nigerian team won six bronze medals and a trophy, taking 3rd among 17 clubs and countries.  Tony stayed in Singapore through 2008 and 2009 at the Prime International Gymnastics Competition, getting elite-level training for the first time in his life.  While training in Singapore, Tony was asked to represent Nigeria at the Olympic Games.  Tony declined the offer - he told me he recognized the fact that, while he may have been one of the best in Nigeria, he was not at the level of other international competitors.  He told me that it would have been an honor to represent Nigeria, but he decided to turn his focus and aspirations to his students, making the goal to win an Olympic medal as a coach.

Alexis practicing landings and form
Tony's only job now is teaching gymnastics.  He loves teaching the skills and character lessons he learned from gymnastics.  He started teaching at Alexis' and Logan's school a couple of years ago.  While teaching the children there, one of the parents of one of the students asked Tony to start teaching her children private lessons in her home.  Tony decided to stop teaching at the school and now teaches about 100 kids from Nigeria and all over the world.   This includes the children from one of the local orphanages he teaches on the weekends.  He teaches them local Nigerian dances and basic tumbling.  He feels it's his duty to give back. 

His goal is to build up the program to the point where he will have his own facility and all the equipment necessary to be a feeder program for the Nigerian Olympic team. Currently, the club has a couple older mats that were donated from previous ex-pat residents and a couple mats he made himself.  And he's doing an amazing job with what little he has.  That being said, he is saving up to purchase uneven bars, a spring board, a vault, a running trampoline, regulation padded mats (ones he has not made himself!), and a balance beam. He would also like to begin training some of the girls in rythmic gymnastics.  Yesterday he hosted a competition for the kids - complete with official judges, team leotards, and medals. It was to serve as a fundraiser to purchase some of this equipment and to ship it here to Nigeria (can't find this kind of equipment here.).   We're trying to raise enough money in order to purchase the equipment so we can ship it over on our last household goods shipment (has to be done in the next two months.)  

Logan and Tony working on handstands and proper form
Unfortunately, as I stated, there are not many options for athletics here in Abuja.  Nor is there much support of any kind from the government.  It was reported in one of the local papers that parents of the children in this club (the only one of its kind in Abuja) approached the Gymnastic Federation of Nigeria (GFN) and the National Sports Commission (NSC) to request assistance of any kind.  For example, these parents have requested the support of GFN in the form of making the “Gymnastic Hall at the Package B” of the National Stadium, Abuja, available to this club as the premier gymnastic destination with regular classes and events. The parents are willing to pay for the coaching and administrative operational support of the club, if the government would be responsible for the infrastructure and the working order of facilities (lighting, air-conditioning, bathrooms, safety of facilities etc).  We are still waiting on the verdict from the Gymnastic Federation.  One of these parents did receive a call from the president of the GFN Nigeria who was most positive about the proposal. He said that they would meet with the parents at the National Championships however and unfortunately, they were not present at the times that the parents were there on three consecutive days.  One parent put a call to one of the board members and, per the article, has yet to hear back.  And the facility and the equipment sit, still unused.  And the club continues to use an aerobics room at the Hilton hotel and an empty room in a back building at the National Stadium, and mats Tony made himself. 


1 comment:

  1. That is an incredible story. How cool that your kids get to learn gymnastics from someone with such character and perseverance.