Pandemic restrictions cripple West Island gymnastics centre, may force it to shut down

·3 min read
Ashleigh Normil got her start at WIMGYM when she was two years old. Now she's a trainer there.  (Jay Turnbull/CBC - image credit)
Ashleigh Normil got her start at WIMGYM when she was two years old. Now she's a trainer there. (Jay Turnbull/CBC - image credit)

COVID-19 restrictions have put a gymnastics training centre in the West Island in a difficult spot, and with unpaid bills piling up, it's at risk of closing its doors for good.

WIMGYM has been open for more than 30 years. It's like a second home for Ashleigh Normil.

Normil got her start there as a two-and-a-half year old learning how to do somersaults. Now she's one of the centre's trainers, and recently made the leap into motherhood.

She's worried she won't have a chance to introduce her son to the sport she loves at the only club she's ever known.

"It would definitely be heartbreaking. As a young mother I really hope to be able to bring my son here and start those classes when he's one," she said.

Evandra Zlovac, 13, hopes she'll get the opportunity to represent Canada at the Olympic Games.
Evandra Zlovac, 13, hopes she'll get the opportunity to represent Canada at the Olympic Games.(Jay Turnbull/CBC)

Due to public health rules, WIMGYM has fewer members, prioritizing gymnasts who train as part of their school's sport-study programs. The curfew also limits the centre's opening hours.

WIMGYM is reeling financially. It pays about $300,000 per year to rent its space in Dorval but says income from membership fees has been slashed by more than half in the last year. The club is now struggling to pay rent, and the landlord wants it out.

Normil says, unlike other clubs, WIMGYM is not funded by municipal governments and relies entirely on membership fees to stay afloat.

"We are a part of the community and having WIMGYM gone is a big loss," she said said. "A lot of people come to us to escape whatever is going on with their lives, whatever is going on at home. It's a really important place."

Thirteen-year-old Evandra Zlovac already has a decade under her belt as a gymnast and trains five hours per day, five days per week, with lofty goals in mind.

Kayley D'Elia is seven years old and is already four years into her gymnastics career.
Kayley D'Elia is seven years old and is already four years into her gymnastics career. (Wendy Longlade)

"I really want to be on Team Canada," Zlovac said. "That was my goal ever since I was little and I think I'm on the right track for that."

She's still able to train at the facility due to her sports-study curriculum. But Kayley D'Elia hasn't been as lucky. The seven-year-old is four years into her gymnastics career and she's already caught the eye of her coaches.

But she and others have been forced to follow virtual training sessions from home, and she worries all of her hard work is being wasted.

"I feel, like, that I'm losing how to know how to do stuff," Kayley said.

As a trainer, Normil says she feels for the athletes whose progress is being stunted. She says gymnasts have a short window to make the most of their potential, and she says many of her seniors — aged 15 and up — have retired due to the inability to take part in international competitions.

Normil doesn't want her younger athletes to quit the sport as well.

Short of receiving financial help from cities in the West Island, she doesn't see WIMGYM getting out of its predicament.

"We'll have to close," she said. "That's the scariest thing because we've been around for so long."