Diane Altimus has two reasons to celebrate this month. September marks the 25th year of her business, Gymnastics by Diane - and from 10 a.m. - 8 p.m., this Saturday, National Gymnastics Day, she will host a special open house-fundraising event at her gym.
Over the past 25 years, more than 3,000 Mountain Area children have learned to tumble and flip, and have perfected cartwheels and handstands under Altimus’ tutelage.
Unlike many highly competitive programs across the country where the goal is to produce “Olympic” quality gymnasts, Altimus calls all her classes “recreational” and stresses basic physical skills for youngsters that will serve them throughout their lives.
“We have had several students who have started out here and moved on to compete for other teams in the Valley,” Altimus said. “Our gym is the perfect jumping-off place for the more serious competitive gymnast.”
Altimus has a passion for the sport. She was a competitive club gymnast from 7 to 17 years old, and a member of the Fresno State gymnastic team for three years. She strongly believes the skills learned in gymnastics help build a strong foundation that will help children in all sports, as well as everyday life.
“Gymnastics is an amazing sport,” Altimus said. “It provides children physical strength, agility, balance, flexibility, self-esteem, mental discipline, and confidence.
“After all these years of teaching, I have seen thousands of children benefit in many ways unique to their own style and personality,” she continued. “It’s a joy to see them all grow in strength, agility, and confidence. But most of all, it’s fun.”
Altimus says children are always telling her why they love gymnastics and the comments range from “I like to fly,” to “I love gymnastics because I can do things that other people can’t.”
The program offers a range of classes from toddler gymnastics (Mommy & Me), to a performance team of advanced students. “Friday Fun Night,” 5:30 - 9:30 p.m., provides free play time, snacks, and a movie.
“The children love it, and it makes a great date night for parents,” Altimus said. The gym is also available for birthday parties and other events.
Every year, Altimus puts together an entertaining spring recital that features more than 100 of her students from toddlers to her performance team.
Many of the children Altimus has trained have come back to the gym as young adults to assist her, and many have gone on to coach gymnastics or work with special needs children in other towns.
Altimus has a special place in her heart for children with special needs from Yosemite High School. She has donated her time and gym from the beginning, to provide these children a unique opportunity to lean some gymnastic skills.
Lori Blate, Yosemite High special education teacher, said Altimus provides physical education for her students that normally would not be available to them.
Altimus said that many young adults that were her students as children, often stop by the gym to see her and thank her for all the fun they had and the great memories they have from gymnastics.
Fundraiser for Katelyn Hough
Although Altimus strongly believes in “recreational” gymnastics, a handful of her students have moved away to compete with other gyms. One such former student, Katelyn Hough, 14, of North Fork, has recently stepped to the next level to pursue her dreams of being an Olympic gymnast.
Hough and her family recently made a huge decision, to leave her school and home to improve her skills at the International Gymnastics Training Centre in Sacramento.
Participating in gymnastics since she could walk, Katelyn took part in the Toddler Gymnastics and Mommy and Me classes at Gymnastics by Diane, coached by her mother, Deborah.
“Kate started at age 3, and showed tremendous potential by the time she was 4,” Altimus said.
By the time she was 6, with Altimus’ encouragement, Hough transferred to a competitive gym, Gymnastics Beat, in Fresno. When she was a 4-foot, 55-pound 8-year-old, her and a partner, Jonathan Herrera, won a gold medal at the 2010 Acrobatic Gymnastics National Championships, in Kissimmee, Fla.
Hough, now 5-foot-2, 100 pounds, would be an eighth-grader at North Fork Elementary School, but due to the commitment to training in Sacramento, she is now being home-schooled through Chawanakee Academy.
“The students at North Fork School are very supportive of Kate and welcome her on campus every Friday when she is there to meet with her home school teacher,” said her mother Deborah. “She will remain involved in the Academic Destination Imagination, and Academic Pentathlon programs.”
It was not an easy decision for Hough to leave her school and friends.
“Kate is doing everything she can to maintain her relationships at school,” Deborah said. “She was a very involved student, excelling in all sports and was the student body vice president last year. Our decision has turned our life upside down ... driving Kate twice a week to Sacramento and managing practice time, but she is on the ‘international’ track with the hope of being picked up by the Olympic team,” Deborah said.
Deborah said her daughter knew what she wanted to do from the time Katelyn first saw Olympic gymnasts on TV.
“As it turns out, all those cheesy phrases you hear people say about ‘dreaming big,’ and ‘you can do anything’ are really true,” Deborah said.
“I am super excited ... school is going well, my training is great, and after three weeks, my skill level has improved,” Katelyn said. “I miss my family and friends but I know exactly where I need to be to reach my goals.”
Katelyn said her coaches know what it’s like to be away from home, and they help her get through the week.
And the training does not stop in Sacramento - in November she will fly to Texas for specialized training at the World Olympic Gymnastics Academy.
Deborah and her husband Paul, feel especially proud of their daughter since she comes from a small town and a small gym.
But Katelyn’s advanced training does not come without sacrifices and some extra expenses for the family like training camp tuition and fees, transportation, meals, and housing when needed.
To help with expenses, Altimus is combining her open house Saturday with a fundraiser for Hough.
* 10 a.m. - noon: “Tumble-Tots Mommy and Me” - donation $5 per child.
* 4 - 5 p.m.: Back Handspring Clinic - for cheerleaders and jazz/hip-hop dancers. Donation is $20 for first child, $10 for each additional sibling.
* 5 - 10 p.m.: Open Gym/Free Play/Movie - Donation $20 first child, $10 each sibling.
Altimus encourages anyone who wishes to bring their children to observe and learn more about gymnastics to attend.
A raffle will be held at noon for five free Wednesday Tumble Tot sessions, and an 8 p.m. raffle will be held for a child’s birthday party at the gym valued at $100. Need not be present to win.
Details: Gymnastics by Diane, Diane Altimus, 40879 Highway 41, (559) 683-8828, gymnasticsbydiane.com.