Nelle Schaffer, of Ocean City, had never done gymnastics before. But at the age of 25, she decided it was time to start.
Schaffer has been a lifelong dancer, which included a tumbling class. She enjoys flipping, which she does on the trampoline at her house and on the beach.
With that background, she thought she could handle whatever was thrown at her in the adult gymnastics course at Blake's Gymnastics Training Academy Inc. in Northfield.
"I thought it would be good to do it in a structured setting all year long. The hardest thing for me to do was to get used to a spring floor, as I had never tumbled on a spring floor," said Schaffer, who learned about the class from a friend who was enrolled.
While Schaffer "did not feel terrible" at the end of her first class, the unfamiliar movements and exertions left her feeling sore.
Schaffer isn't alone in putting on a leotard and trying her hand at tumbling and other moves.
They don't have the athleticism or the youth of 16-year-old U.S. women's gymnastics team gold medalist Gabby Douglas. But some southern New Jersey women are giving adult gymnastics a try, even if they didn't participant in the sport when they were younger.
Blake's Gymnastics holds its adults gymnastic class 8:30 p.m. Wednesdays, after all the other classes are over, so the adults can have privacy.
Tumbling instructor Gregory Ingram started the adult class off slowly for the handful of women who showed up on a recent Wednesday evening. After stretching, the women lined up in a row and executed handstands, cartwheels and other maneuvers seen during the tumbling run of a gymnastics floor exercise, such as roundoff handsprings and front walkovers. There were two adult instructors for five participants, so the adults were able to receive some individual instruction.
The class lasts an hour, but the first half hour is more structured than the second. The women took breaks from their tumbling runs to jump on the enclosed trampoline, to walk and leap on the balance beam and to briefly fly in the air after they launched themselves from the vault with a running start.
Jennifer Robles, of Absecon, took her first gymnastics class when she was 18, but stopped while she concentrated on her double degree in psychology and studio art at Atlantic Cape Community College. Now 21, Robles decided she wanted to try it again with adults.
"I always wanted to do gymnastics," said Robles. "The sport in itself always attracted me. I always wondered. I figured I would work up to it, and I did. If you work hard at anything, you can achieve it."
Robles likes to do handstands on the floor and balance exercises.
"No matter what you do at a local gym, you never do the same things that you do while you are in gymnastics. You don't use all the muscles that you use when you are doing things on floor in gymnastics, on beam, anything like that because they are completely different things," said Robles, who added she felt more sore from the adult gymnastics class than if she ran or did yoga.
Brinah Iglesias, 21, of Vineland, wanted to do gymnastics so badly as an adult she was willing to be a part of the class for ages 9 and older because Airborne Gymnastics Academy in Vineland doesn't offer a separate adult class.
"I always wanted to do gymnastics since I was little, but my mom never really had the money or the time to take me, so when I got old enough and was able to pay for it on my own and had the time to do it, I decided to go for it," Iglesias said. "I was stronger than the other girls because I was older, but I didn't have the flexibility or the same type of strength that they did."
Iglesias said her splits were bad when she first walked into Airborne in November 2011.
"My whole body was stiff and just sore, and it was a completely different kind of workout, but I was so excited to be there, and I caught on very quickly to some of the tricks, so I was able to do more age-appropriate tricks in a short amount of time," said Iglesias. "I actually lost weight and gained muscle as well. My numbers stayed close to the same. My weight when I began was maybe 125 pounds, and my number now is 117 pounds, so I only lost a little bit of weight... I'm so much more defined with my muscles."
As children become adults, there will be a greater number of people who remember what gymnastics did for them because the sport is growing, said Jim Jarrett, who is on the business advisory committee to USA Gymnastics.
"It's going to attract new people, that for whatever reason, didn't think about taking gymnastics as a fitness activity for them as a child. Maybe, they just did other things, or time or money didn't allow them to do that," said Jarrett, president of Capital Gymnastics in Austin, Texas. "There are a greater number of television activities, such as 'Dancing with the Stars' and all kinds of dance competitions, where you are noticing there is a greater number of adults actually physically doing skills in their dance routines ... that come from the root of being a gymnast."
Doing gymnastics moves as an adult can be hard even for someone who grew up doing them as a child and teen.
Nichole Lepore, 20, of Dennis Township, did gymnastics from ages 7 through 18 at Blake's Gymnastics. She took a two-year break and is returning to gymnastics as an adult because she missed tumbling.
"It became embedded in my system since I was little to always be athletic and working out. But being back in the gym and tumbling and using muscles I have not used in a couple of years, I had to ice, and I was sore for the next few days," said Lepore.
Soreness isn't the only thing adults taking gymnastics must conquer. No longer possessing the fearless feeling of indispensability that many children have, adults initially find many of the gymnastic moves frightening.
Lepore said she wasn't afraid to do anything when she was young. But now, she finds herself wondering if she really wants to try some moves.
"Now, that I'm a little bit older ... I know I can truly hurt myself," she said.
Tracey Blake-Rossell, the owner of Blake's Gymnastics, has offered adult gymnastics off and on during the past 27 years and is one of the few area gyms that does.
Parents watch their children do gymnastics, and they start thinking how exciting it is, Blake-Rossell said. They will show up for the summer sessions. One difference between running a gymnastics class for adults versus children is that it has to be pay as you go for adults because it is hard for them to make a weekly commitment.
"It's a unique form of exercise," Blake-Rossell said. "Nobody else is in the gym. It's a fun class, a private class. They have the whole gym to themselves."
Contact Vincent Jackson:
For beginners, intermediate and advanced ages 18 and older held 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. Wednesdays at Blake's Gymnastics Training Academy Inc., 1225 W. Mill Road, Northfield. Admission is $11.25 for an hour. Payment upon arrival. For more information, call 609-383-9594 or visit blakesgym.com