HAVERHILL — Gina Paulhus is looking to start a revolution among gymnasts who never said goodbye to the sport they practiced in their youth and are looking for a place to continue practicing as adults with other kindred spirits.
While the world’s premier gymnasts showed off their skills during the Toyko Olympics, with help from Paulhus others continue to follow their passion for the sport, no matter their age.
Paulhus, 40, a personal trainer and certified nutritionist who operates Home Bodies out of her home in Haverhill, runs two adult gymnastics camps each year. She also leads a Facebook group that has grown to more than 5,500 members, with about 1,000 of them having joined recently.
“We’ve banded together on Facebook and hope there will be more groups in every community,” she said. “There are running clubs in almost every town, so why not a gymnastics team?”
Paulhus, an Amesbury native, began studying gymnastics at age 10 then took a break to attend college, however, she never let go of her passion for the sport.
At age 25, which she says is well past the common age to compete, she found her way back.
“I found a gym and worked out with high school girls and began competing,” she said. “I won one AAU national championship in 2013 and in 2014 and I continued on but needed ankle surgery in 2016, forcing me to retire from competition.”
In July 2015, she launched what she said was the world’s first all-adult gymnastics camp. It attracted about 30 women and 10 men, ranging in age from 23 to 61. In subsequent camps, the ages ranged from 18 to 65.
“Most gymnasts stop training after high school unless they make it onto a college team,” she said. “Five years ago there weren’t many places for adults to practice as most gyms didn’t think there was a demand.”
Paulhus is hoping to see every gymnastic club begin offering adult classes.
She hold her Original Adult Gymnastics Camp each January and July at Atlantic Gymnastics in Portsmouth. Adults gymnasts train together, learn new routines, and spring back into the sport in a non-judgmental environment.
She could not hold camp last summer due to pandemic restrictions but hopes to have one next January.
Throughout the year, her growing army of adult gymnasts get together online through her Facebook group, “Just like fine wine...Adult Gymnastics Group,” where members shatter stereotypes of what a gymnast is.
Gymnasts, coaches, and even past Olympians like Chellsie Memmel have used the group to bond over their love of the sport, share their accomplishments, watch televised competitions together and find support.
“People post videos of learning a new skill, some ask for help about learning a particular skill, and we have coaches who love to help,” Paulhus said.
The group has especially helped veteran gymnasts find their community, like Lori Vollkommer of Center Moriches, Long Island, New York, who returned to competing internationally more than 30 years after she was told she could never do gymnastics again due to back injury she’d sustained as a teenager.
“She has since gone on to win gold medals at international competitions at the age of 53,” Paulhus said. “She has come to my camp and attends the same competitions I now attend as a spectator.”
Shedding the idea that gymnasts are all young, Paulhus says the average age of Olympians has risen over the years.
“This year, 46-year-old Oksana Chusovitina of Uzbekistan competed in her eighth Olympic games,” Paulhus said. “This Olympics also happens to be the first year in which all members of the US team are 18 and above.”
One of the nice thing about adult gymnastics is no one makes you do any particular event, she said.
“It’s up to each individual and choosing what you want to do is what makes adult gymnastics great.”