Walk into any gymnastics club or cheerleading gym and you’ll see a big spot somewhere filled to near overflowing (if they’re doing it right) with foam blocks. It will scream: “Jump!!!!! Take a running, flying leap into this big pit of foam filled fun!!!! Do Eeet!!!”
And, that’s exactly what people do.
In fact, you’ll see gymnasts and cheerleaders take running, twisting, flipping leaps into them straight off the floor or off of the other equipment native to gymnastics: uneven or horizontal bars, beams, vault tables or rings.
These athletes, male and female, are training gymnastics drills and skills or cheerleading.
Now, you might picture these small oasis of foam as rectangles, and it’s true, some of them are. Our most widely used gym pit design, however, is the classic L-shaped Pit.
The L-Shaped Pit
The L-shaped gymnastics pit is typically 18ft. x 18ft. square with a 8ft. x 16ft. leg on one corner. Hence, your L-shaped gym club pit.
The L-shaped gym pit provides two different depths and types of cushioning for training skills and drills at different stages of development.
Let’s talk about all the things you can train into an L-shaped gymnastics foam pit and why you might want different depths for beginning and advanced skill levels.
The longer leg is usually constructed deeper with our Sag Bed Pit Design. The deeper pit area is for the beginning stages of landings, drills and skill development. It contains the foam blocks that cushion imperfect landings and decelerate the forces the gymnast’s body generates.
You can run pretty much anything into it: a vault table, rings, a tumble track, a tumble strip or a spring or rod floor. You can also put a beam to practice dismounts. The Soviets were the first to use a gym pit to train and we think it’s a great idea!
The short leg of an L shaped gymnastics pit offers a variety of ways to train women’s uneven bars and men’s horizontal bar.
For space saving purposes and to allow focus on just one bar, many gym club owners use our single bar trainer positioned such that you can either land into foam in the deeper end or onto a more shallow shelf padded 8ft x 14ft x 24ft gym pit mat that serves as a transition toward the reality of a gymnastics meet: the floor.
If the deeper part of the pit is the tricycle, the shallow end would be the training wheels that get you ready for the floor’s ten speed bike.
Our single bar trainer can be adjusted to accommodate either the women’s or the men’s rail. Depending where it’s positioned and with which type of pit the single bar trainer is used, you’ll want the space saving, design convenience of our L-base and T-base foundations with a coach’s spotting deck.
Having been gymnasts, coaches and gym owners ourselves, we’ve made sure to design our gymnastics pits such that the single bar trainer is positioned far enough back from the mat on the shallow shelf so the gymnast doesn’t hit their chin on the mat while training.
The end of the short leg that faces out onto the main floor is a great place to put a full set of uneven bars. When your gymnast trains using both bars and she can dismount onto the shallow, matted shelf.
L or T-shape depends on your preference and gym space
Another configuration that offers the shallow shelf for single bar and uneven bar placement is the T-shaped gymnastics pit. The T-shaped pit provides the same advantages of the L-shaped gym pit, but offers you another choice in setting it, organically, into the landscape of your gym. Do you have support columns to work around? Do you want to place your pit in the corner? What are you training into it? Having different pit shape options allows you to configure your gymnastics pits to your space.
The Trench Bar Pit
The Trench Bar Pit facilitates a, literally, more hands on approach to skills learning between coach and gymnast.
Usually, 38 inches wide x 18 feet long x 7 feet deep, the trench bar gymnastics pit is designed deep and long, so the bar can be placed low enough that the coach can easily get close enough to manipulate the gymnast’s body through the skill, ensuring that they learn the right shapes and postures native to advanced release moves and dismounts. Using a trench bar pit means coaches don’t have to work at the distance of a spotting deck or block. Getting the gymnast and coach in closer proximity fosters a stronger, safer (for both) one-on-one working relationship that helps iron out the details integrating them into the gymnast’s muscle memory.
The narrow width and extra depth of the trench bar is designed to accommodate the gymnast’s body as it travels through the swing. Inside the pit, we use a curved mat that keeps the gymnast safe should they let go of the bar.
The curved mat also enables them to to climb out of the pit with ease.
The Rectangle Shaped Pit for Tumbling and Cheer
Some gymnastics gyms and many cheerleading gyms will have a wide rectangle shaped tumbling pit into which a number of different types of tumbling floors will spill.
For instance, you could run a rod floor, a tumble strip and a tumbling track up to different points in your large cheerleading pit. High school cheerleading teams compete with each other on carpet bonded foam floors. However, they often practice or perform at games and pep rallies on hard surface floors like their school’s basketball court. Competitive cheer teams usually compete on a spring floor like that used in gymnastics gyms. So you’ll want your cheer tumbling pit to bump up against the cheer gym floor surfaces that are relevant to your market of cheer athletes.
A cheerleading gym, gymnastics gym clubs might run their rod and spring floors up to it, a tumble track or tumble strip; as well as a trampoline to provide for a variety of drills that lead to skills. Of course, gymnastics gyms can also back their beams, rings, vaults and bars up to it, too.
Single or Multi-Purpose Pit?
To save money and gym interior real estate, many gyms and clubs place and configure their gym pits for multiple types of training. Digging code compliant holes, fitting them with trampoline beds and filling them with foam is a necessity for a gym that offers any serious training, but it isn’t cheap. Multi-tasking your pit is a must for most, but it does mean you’re going to have to be cognizant of your traffic control to avoid collisions.
For those that have the space and budget, that problem is avoided by having single purpose pits. Single purpose gymnastics pits are designed and equipped to accommodate one type of training.
For instance, a typical single purpose pit is the bar pit. It’s usually more narrow, around 8 ft. with a length that varies based on the size of your gym and how many bars you want to use with it. Or maybe, you might triple it with your more narrow pit, by running a beam, vault or tumble strip at the end.
You see, the sky’s the limit! When deciding which and how many pits you’re going to use in your gym, you’ll want to ask yourself what you want to train into it, take a look at your budget and then take a good long look at the space you’ve got and what equipment you want where based on the organic flow of your programs.
In short, traffic control!
You don’t want kids crossing the vault runway to get to the beam station. Based on the skills they do and the equipment they use, many gymnastics gyms will place their pits in the corner out of the main flow of traffic. Whereas with cheerleading gyms, tumbling floors are the main event. Cheer gyms often put their pits in the center and all roads lead to the pit!
Born in ’52, George Michael Raines, President of GMR Gymnastics Sales (Yep! GMR…) found his passion for gymnastics at pools, trampoline parks and Lakeside High School.
An active, but shy kid, Mike practically grew up in the neighborhood pool and took to diving as a sport at age 10. Family outings to the local, in-ground trampoline park and his brother Tom’s trampolining at Briarcliff High School inspired Mike to try out for his school’s gymnastics team in the 8th grade. Mike remembers, still sounding a bit disheartened, “The coach dropped me because he wanted the older guys.”
“When I got to the 9th grade, my school didn’t have a team, as such. Guys who liked gymnastics tumbled on horse hair mats in the cafeteria after school. We did it on our own.”
“But, in the 10th grade, the team came back — The Lakeside Vikings — and this time I made it! Unfortunately, it was led by the football coach because, back then, school administrators thought anyone could coach gymnastics.”
Mike was a Lakeside Viking gymnast from the 10th grade through his senior year, when he served as team captain.
“We did floor exercise on the basketball court. No padding. No springs.”
“We had to tumble 20 miles in the snow… Ha ha. Just kidding.”
“Gymnastics has really grown along side and through demand and technology. Tumbling was not at all what you see as today as TNT on the rod floor. Every high school had a trampoline until it got dangerous and there were lawsuits. Now, they’ve taken them out.”
“When I started there were no private clubs or gyms. At my school, things were pretty basic and we were self-taught. The coaches didn’t know anything, either. We taught each other. We didn’t have YouTube and the Internet. We would watch the Olympics to learn new skills. We’d read an article or see a picture in Modern Gymnast magazine (now International Gymnast) and we’d try and figure out what to do. We looked at drawings. MG was like The Bible and we cherished it. We also went to local university meets and studied what the college gymnasts did.”
“I still remember the day we got our hands on the FIG Code of Points — ‘The Green Book’. Skills were rated A – C. (Now, they’re rated A – I). We’d read through that to learn skills and compose routines.”
“The biggest influence for me as a gymnast, then later as a coach, was my mentor Joe Gaitins (a Georgia Tech gymnast circa 1959).
He ran an evening gym club at at Dykes high school. Everyone who loved gymnastics went. Even when I got to college, I still went back in the summers because it was the only place to do the workout.”
“Joe would film the Olympics off the TV with his Super 8 camera. He had a big cache of Olympic and other gymnastics competitions and we’d all gather ‘round and watch those films over and over. That’s how we put our skills and routines together.”
To young Mike, gymnastics was life.
“In 11th grade, I had a varsity letter jacket. All my friends let their girlfriends wear theirs, and though I had a girlfriend, I wouldn’t let her wear mine. It was too precious. It was my pride and joy! One night, me and some friends were out rolling the yard of a girl I had a crush on.”
(For those who don’t know, ‘rolling’ consists of throwing rolls of toilet paper up into the branches of trees, so the paper would cascade down in long streams).
“We must have been too loud because after a bit, the flood lights came on and her parents came out. Trying not to get in trouble, I dove through the window of what we’d hoped would be our getaway car, except as I went in, my gymnastics medal came off of my letter jacket. I wouldn’t let us leave until we’d found it… so we got busted.”
“Luckily, her parents had a sense of humor and only made us clean up the mess! But, even under the threat of Parents, I was not leaving without that medal!”
(Turns out it was stuck in the car door, so much for Mike’s life of crime!)
“So yeah, we had medals and a letter jacket for gymnastics. The things we didn’t have were team uniforms. We wanted them, but the school wouldn’t pay for them. We tried to talk to the school about it, but we couldn’t get in to see the principal. So, me and the boys got together and called him from the school pay phone to ask, ‘If we paid half, would the school would pay the other half?’ Though, I was shy, I was the one to call on behalf of the team. That’s how bad we wanted those uniforms. Thankfully, our effort softened them up and we got our uniforms.”
“In the 1960’s and 70’s there was no lycra. Our uniforms were cotton — woven, not knit. Boys wore suspenders to keep their pants up. There was this constant tension between the foot and the waist. Our mothers would sew in elastic suspenders or we’d wear clip-ons. Back then, we wore long pants in everything. Now, men compete in tumbling shorts on floor and vault.”
“We also didn’t have dowel grips. Just palm guards. We wore “wick grips” which were made out of the same material used to make oil burning lamps. They were looped over the fingers, then sewn together. — Gosh that makes me sound old! In college, I wore a single buckle palm guard on my finger tips. Just that one, small buckle was all that was holding me on!”
“Meets back then were like marathons because no one had to qualify for the state meet. There were no regulations on it in those days. County and state meets would start at 9am and run ’til 11pm. Every school in my county, that had a team, would show up with the whole team and each gymnast participated in all the events.”
“There were more events for boys, too. There were your standards of today: floor exercise, pommel horse, still rings, vault, parallel bars, horizontal bar. Then, you had extra events like trampoline, tumbling, and rope climb. Rope climb is now used as gymnastics conditioning, but in those days, it was part of the competition.
In competitive rope climb, the gymnast started off in a seated, Straddle L position to ascend a 20 ft. rope in a timed race where the goal was to be the first to hit a wooden disc ‘tambourine’. These days, it’s part of the whole recreational ninja thing and it’s pretty big in Japan. Only now, the rope is 50 feet!”
Having risen, as part of his high school team, to the height of captain and becoming champion of an event he can’t remember — “This was all a very long time ago,” he adds — Mike went on to follow in his brother Tom’s footsteps by majoring in accounting, joining the same fraternity: Lambda Chi Alpha and competing in UGA gymnastics from 1970 – 1974.
“They gave me a scholarship for tuition. It was around $140 per quarter. Gosh! That makes me sound old. 140 bucks, likely, wouldn’t even buy a textbook these days. Eventually, I got books and meals added on which was worth a lot.”
“Like most gymnasts, my dream was to be in the Olympics. For a while, I think, I honestly believed I would, but then reality set in around ’72 and I saw that it was not to be.”
Even still… “The Olympics set the pace for gymnastics in those years. Back then, you had to excel in both a compulsory and your own individual routine.”
College gymnastics was comprised of only six events: floor exercise, pommel horse, still rings. vault, parallel bars and horizontal bar: run, support, swing, run, support, swing.
“I was terrible at pommel horse. It’s one of the reasons my boys team did so well in it. I couldn’t do it myself, but I’d be damned, if I wasn’t going to be good at coaching it. That’s also part of why Che, my son, ended up NCAA pommel horse champion.” Well, that and his early start on “The MushroomTM”, but we’ll get to that later…
“My best event in college was high bar. I was coached by Lee Cunningham, a great gymnast from the Penn State team in the ’50’s. He says he invented inverted giants which was my favorite high bar skill. These were the real inverts, too! The 360° shoulder dislocation version. I was one of the few in the region who could do them. I loved ‘em then, but now I can barely raise my arms above my shoulders.”
“Our UGA gymnastics team did pretty well. I won regionals in the horizontal bar my sophomore year. Went to NCAA in ’72 and ’73. Didn’t make it to NCAA in ’74, though, my senior year, when I was captain of the team.”
“After I graduated, I pretty much thought life was over: no more gymnastics! In 1975, I graduated with a degree in accounting and went to work as an accountant at The Southern Company. Thankfully, that only lasted a year. Joe Gaitins saved me from my misery when he invited me to come coach the girls in his program.”
“It was pretty good timing because right about then, The Southern Company was not so subtly suggesting I might consider other career moves. Really, my heart wasn’t in it. It was in the gym.”
So Mike liberated himself from the shackles of spreadsheets (at least ’til he started GMR) and went into coaching gymnastics.
“In 1975, by night, I coached with Joe at Lovett high school in Atlanta when the private gym club market started taking off. By day, I worked at Gwinnett Gym Center, owned by my former teammate Dan Thaxton. From there, I went to the Atlanta School of Gymnastics where another former UGA teammate, Gene Watson, joined me and we began our boys’ program.”
In those days, gymnastics training occurred in what were called classes rather than levels. Mike started with younger boys aged 6 to 10 in classes 1 – 4, class 1 being the most advanced.
Now, gymnasts are grouped into levels from 1 – 10, with 10 as the most advanced before Elite. When word got around that Mike was coaching, he began to work with older boys, ages 13 to 17, some of whom he recruited from local high schools.
At around the same time, Mike met Gary Heartsfield who was regional sales manager for AMF gymnastics equipment (which later became AAI). Gary brought Mike in to install wood floor plates in Chamblee High School. “I made $80 in 3 hours that day and thought it was the best thing that had ever happened to me.” After a few successful and enthusiastic installs Gary asked Mike to become an AMF dealer; he went on to sell mats and install equipment all over the Southeast.
“I was hooked. From then on, I ate, slept and breathed gymnastics. I worked as an AMF dealer during the day. Then after, I coached gymnastics for 4 hours a night and still coached on the weekend. My passions were coaching, selling and learning to make gymnastics equipment.”
“The first piece of equipment I ever did was a gymnastics beam cover. It was constructed from vinyl I’d gotten at a fabric store. My mom sewed on the ends. The first piece of equipment I ever designed was The Mushroom™.”
“I’d seen a film of Russian gymnasts training pommel horse techniques on something that looked like a mushroom. I could see the benefit of first learning to do circles on a smaller, rounder piece of equipment. I wanted something like that for my boys, so I found an old volley ball post base behind Westminster School that I took to my dad’s metal shop. We welded on some legs, with feet; rustled up some old foam from the gym; sewed on a piece of vinyl from the fabric store and The Mushroom™ was born!”
“Since then, I’ve tweaked the configuration a bit, but it’s still basically the same design from 30 years ago. I trademarked the name “The Mushroom” and GMR became the first company to make and sell the product in the US — at first, for a little while, production of the covers was based out of my apartment; the metal was welded in my dad’s sheet metal shop.”
“GMR Gymnastics Sales, the company, began with $150 in cash and a concrete drill— at the time, meeting the bare and basic requirements of $600 in assets for incorporating in the state of Georgia. That’s how the legal side of things got started.”
“Meanwhile, my boys were doing great in competition! As a gymnast, I was not very good on the pommel horse, but I was deadset on being good at coaching it. The Atlanta Gym Flairs and I traveled all over the country competing in meets. I was doing clinics. After meets, I’d set up some Mushrooms™ for the boys to use to workout. I sold loads of Mushrooms™ to their coaches when they saw go to town. Back then, the mushroom wasn’t an event for the younger boys like it is now.”
“I was lucky to work with some really talented athletes who won almost every meet they went to for their age group. Forgive me for bragging a bit, but those boys worked hard — some of them, including my son Che and his best friends Jody, and Alex, whom I coached from ages 6 to 18, worked 6 days a week!”
“Our success on the pommel horse, I credit to my gymnasts’ early basics on The Mushroom™. Some of the older boys could barely swing pommel horse; but the younger boys on The Mushroom™ blew everyone’s mind. Che started on it at 6 years old. In college, at University of Nebraska, Che went on to become 1992 NCAA Pommel Horse Champion thanks to that thing — along with his talent, grit and determination.”
“Che, Jody Newman and Alex Scott, all Class 1 gymnasts, stayed with me the entire time before going off to college where they went on to do big things. The Atlanta Gym Flairs rocked the National Boys Invitational, which was the big meet at the time. Alex also did well in gymnastics at Michigan State. Jody Newman became NCAA Floor Exercise champion at Arizona State in 1993 and now owns Premier Gymnastics in Omaha, NE.”
“Olympic gymnast (1988) Kevin Davis tells the story that a high school coach saw him tumbling and told him he should get into gymnastics, so he ended up at Atlanta School of Gymnastics where he says I was his very first coach. I didn’t work with him for more than few classes, though. My friend Gene Watson was his coach.”
“I did make a few rookie coaching mistakes along the way, though. An obvious flub, in hindsight was, with Patrick Kirksey, who was on my team at ASG. When he said he didn’t want to do giants on the high bar, I kicked him off the team. I handled it all wrong. Clearly a misstep, as Patrick went on to become NCAA High Bar and All-Around Champion, as well as a member of the World Championship team. You live and learn, I guess,” Mike laughs.
While living and learning as a coach and building his gymnastics equipment business, Mike also worked to build gymnastics as a sport in the state of Georgia and in his southeastern region: Region 8.
With the help of his (later) wife and business partner, Kappy Bowers, Mike started the USGF program (United States Gymnastics Federation) for boys in Georgia because “there was nothing going on.”
He was the first state director, though, as he tells it, “Kappy was the ghost organizer. Whatever needed doing, she did it. She did all the work. Her background was as a costume designer and production stage manager in the theater, so she was an organizing powerhouse. She made me look good.”
Together, Mike and Kappy held the first Region 8 ‘Regionals’ meet with the help of Ron Clemmer of Clemmer’s in Charlotte, North Carolina. Mike, Kappy and Ron also held the first inter-state competition. When the regional meet grew big enough to require a larger venue, they moved the Region 8 meet to Charlotte where GMR supplied the equipment. By 1979, gymnastics had really begun to take off with gymnastics gyms and clubs popping up all around the country.
Mike and Kappy broke more than a few barriers in the sport of gymnastics: they opened minds and new markets.
In those days, there were no female judges in boy’s gymnastics. Mike and Kappy changed that, too. One Saturday night at a judges meeting…
“You’d have thought I’d walked into that meeting with Bigfoot, when Kappy and I first came in. Their jaws hit the floor. They couldn’t believe I’d brought a woman with aspirations to judge boy’s gymnastics. Much to their surprise, Kappy knew more about skills and compulsory routines than most judges. She’d been immersed in the gym with me, as Che’s mother, since 1977. She studied and passed the judges test with flying colors. There was nothing they could say.”
Before the late ’70’s gymnastics explosion, judges in Georgia weren’t very familiar with age group boy’s gymnastics and their, then mandatory, compulsory routines. So, Mike taught the judges the compulsories, so they could judge meets.
While opening doors for boys gymnastics and female judges, Mike and Kappy also worked to meet the needs of American coaches, parents and athletes by filling in gaps for equipment, parts and later apparel in the US market.
When Mike started out, there were no real grips to speak of, just the palm guards he wore made from fabric similar to oil lamp wicking material.
“Young gymnasts couldn’t get real grips in the US. The only way to get them here was to import them from Europe. Before computers and fax machines, we would send individual snail mail orders, communicating back and forth via the post, all the way to Reisport in Switzerland. I would sell tons of them at meets. The demand was there, but US distribution was small scale. Our goal was to increase US distribution and get grips into the hands of US gymnasts!
On first request, Reisport refused us as distributors, but then when we told them we could triple the order of their US distributor, they set us up and we became the main US distributor.”
“Gymnasts used to send in tracings of their hands via fax or snail mail. Howard, our grips guy, had seen so many little hands that he could spot their grip size just by looking at them. He came up with a grips sizing chart for our grips which made ordering a lot easier. Since then many other companies have adopted it.”
Tumbling shoes weren’t available in the US, either. So, GMR became one of the largest distributors for ASICS Tiger tumbling shoes. Apparel, at the time, was made for adults and manufactured by a company named Zwickel. However, young gymnasts had to get their clothing remade. Mike adds, “The patterns weren’t right for young athletes, so Kappy and I got mad and decided to do it ourselves.”
At the USA Gymnastics National Congress and Trade show, Mike and Kappy met Kyoshi Takahashi and his wife Hatsumi, who knew how to sew. Together, they started Kyoshi USA which provided the gear for an apparel line of boys competition pants, shorts and shirts under the brand: 10.0, which is overseen by Kappy, as Co-CEO of GMR.
The equipment business that began in his apartment had begun to outgrow that space, too.
Kappy says with a smile, “It never really did fit.”
And, as Mike had grown tired of commuting to coach at the Atlanta School of Gymnastics, he took his friend and fellow coach, Bruce McGartlin, up on an idea to help with the rent at his gym, Gym America, by partitioning out space in the back for GMR.
Mike and his fledgling GMR worked out of a back office/warehouse space in the back of Gym America from 1980 until 1984.
As GMR looked to expand out from making The Mushroom™ into building spring floors and gymnastics carpets, Mike leased 10,000 square feet in the building next door to Gym America where he could create a space big enough to roll out and make large carpets and mats.
Mike hired more employees, including Ralph Pickett who taught himself to bind and sew carpets. Ralph and Mike have been working together for 37 years and counting! From that space came spring floors, gymnastics carpets, landing and folding mats with the GMR name on them. Things started to move!
Meanwhile, no one was selling parts for equipment, so Mike’s first catalogue became a source of parts for AMF equipment. Back then, when there was no Internet, you couldn’t just google for parts. Sourcing was a big deal. Mike saw that need and solved it.
“As the business grew, Kappy could then afford to take a salary for the first time in 3 years. She’d been teaching full-time, but quit to help with running the business while I was out selling and installing. Though, I was an accountant by formal education, Kappy taught herself and took over the books. She took over apparel design and product development, too,” Mike says with palpable pride.
“Kappy also brought GMR into the future by acquiring, in those days, cutting edge technology: the fax machine! We thought, “What’s the world coming to when you don’t use mail, you use a fax!”
“Kappy bought our first computer, The Eagle, to track orders. If she hadn’t bought that first computer, I’d never have gotten one.”
Mike explains, “In the mid 90’s, desktop publishing was starting to flourish. Tired of the expense and difficulties of working with an outside publisher to create and produce the catalogue, we decided to do it ourselves in-house. So, we took the plunge and borrowed 10 grand, which back then and to us, was an enormous amount of money!”
“At the time, color catalogues were just too expensive. Lucky for us, we met Zandra Gruber who had a daughter in gymnastics.”
“Zani is an artist who ran her own printing company before she sold it and came onboard, full-time at GMR. With Zani’s graphic art skills and Kappy’s determination to reduce costs and still produce a dynamic catalogue with color illustrations, we brought production of the catalogue in-house.”
Even now, Kappy looks pained as she explains, “That was hard work. Back then computers didn’t have a whole lot of processing power. Producing a color illustration, which was done with layered spot color, not processed color. It would take hours. We’d be up all night, catching naps in the ages it would take for even just one file to process. It was hell, but it was worth it.”
Mike adds, “We also saw that very few companies were doing retail gymnastics themed items for gifts, jewelry or apparel. We bought a heat press and learned to print tee-shirts. We started doing collectors items like our pins and Christmas ornaments. We saw there was a market for it, so Kappy’s ideas with Zani’s art became the products themselves.”
“Kappy also brought about a big change in the gym apparel world, at large, by introducing taffeta — a wedding dress fabric! — into active wear. Before Ten-o started using it in our warm ups, companies were using this awful triple knit, nylon stuff that was hot and scratchy. Part of Kappy’s work in the theatre had been in costume design, so she understands textiles. Once we did it, everyone else followed suit! This was around the late ’80’s when athletic clothing was becoming popular for every day active wear. It changed the gymnastics industry!”
GMR started selling videos, sports medicine items, training videos, home gym equipment.
“Every step of the way, GMR has been self-starting. We’d think… ‘Let’s get this and learn to do that!”
“Our goal was to bring everything for gymnastics under one roof. Hence our tagline: Everything for gymnastics since 1978!”
As the market grew, there were times when that was easier said than done.
Mike nods as Kappy says, “Christmas was a nightmare. We’d be up all night before the final shipping day to get items out in time for Santa to deliver. We shipped thousands of items a day and had to hire extra people to get it done.”
Mike recalls, “One of our early products was my S.T.R.E.T.C.H program. I’d been calling it that, but couldn’t come up with what it would stand for as an acronym. Then one day, having fallen asleep in the van while out traveling with my boys program, it came to me in a dozy, lucid sleep: Success Through Region Eight Training and Conditioning Habits!”
As the sport of gymnastics exploded across the country in the late 1980’s with new gyms, clubs, school and YMCA programs, GMR paved new roads in apparel, gear and competitive equipment.
To that end in the late ’80’s, Mike and Kappy went to Canada to meet with members of Laurentian Gymnastics Industries, an Italian company, who were, at the time, doing PE gymnastics equipment, but knew nothing about competitive apparatus.
Mike explains, “Laurentian was making climbing frames, ladders, vault boxes and boards, but they didn’t know anything about competitive equipment, but I did, so together we manufactured a complete line of competition equipment for men’s and women’s gymnastics. They made it for me by FIG specs, under the GMR name, but before our By GMR brand.”
In 1994, GMR started manufacturing its own equipment to get more control over the design and manufacturing process. Mike wanted to merge knowledge gleaned from his years of coaching with his expansion into manufacturing.
He says, “We bought drill presses, lathes, saws, sewing machines, welding equipment and a washing and painting booth. I had some ideas for new products like our single bar trainer that’s become the most popular single bar trainer in the country.”
“Coaching taught me that, in the gym, space is at a premium. So, I developed the single bar trainer that’s bolted into the floor taking away the space needed for cables. We also introduced a parallel bars box that had padded rails that you can get your hands around like a real parallel bar. Whatever I made, I tried to improve on what was out there.”
“Later, say 2007, we decided to bring grips production in-house, too. We’d had another company who’d been making them for us. Now, we’ve got a full-scale grip department with cutting, gluing and sewing departments. We make our own leos and mats in standard or custom sizes.”
As the business grew, GMR outgrew its space next door to Gym America. In 1998, Mike and Kappy moved the company into its own, and current headquarters, here in Lithonia, GA.
Later in 2011, GMR added another 7,500 square feet to build out a warehouse, increasing storage, which provides a total of 32,500sq. feet of warehouse and manufacturing space.
“We also shoot the majority of the stuff for the catalogue in the warehouse,” Mike says. “We got tired of hauling it off to set up in a studio, so we built a 25ft x 40ft wide cyc wall (short for cyclorama) which is a curved white, vinyl sheet drop down.
A few small things are shot in our photographer’s studio. The apparel is shot in local gyms on real gymnasts, but the rest we shoot and produce in-house.”
Always in tandem with the times and technology, one of GMR’s other experienced gymnastics coaches — a former gym owner himself — our assistant production manager, Grant Coulter, developed the gymnastics elements for the 3D rendering software we use to design gym pits and gym spaces. Grant added in dimensions of all the equipment and mats, so we can either integrate what someone already has or put what they’re purchasing from us into their dream gym design.
Using 3D rendering software in combination with Grant’s and Mike’s combined decades of knowledge of how gym programs and trainings flow, we help our customers best maximize their equipment, in their space, for their needs. We ensure training flow is organic and fit for function to accommodate recreational programs, cheerleading, team gymnastics and elite athlete training.
“We understand how all elements of a successful gym work together in real time. We help gym and club owners think through placement of their tumble tracks and vault runways and how they can best couple safety with functionality. We also help gym and club owners plan for revenue drivers like parties, viewing areas, parents nights out…. then we provide the blueprint for our client’s ideal gym!”
*Mike’s eyes really light up as he talks about this*
“Last year, 2016, GMR expanded in a new direction when we began selling parts and equipment for most of the other major suppliers of gymnastics equipment such as Spieth America, AAI, Gymnova, Nissen, Gymtrix, and Janssen Fritzen. We’d already been partnered with Dollamur mats for a while. It was a good decision for all parties involved. It opened doors for us to better provide parts and equipment to our customers, particularly our gym design clients and it allows those companies to reach a wider market through our connection to the community and 37 years of service.”
Service to the gymnastics community, particularly its under-served elements, is something near and dear to Mike and Kappy’s hearts.
For 15 years, Mike and Kappy provided gymnastics equipment to the Special Olympics. (They stopped when the games were moved to Cobb Recreation Gymnastics where the equipment is already, permanently installed). Still, GMR donates products such as tee-shirts, bag and shoes to the Georgia Special Olympics team and, last year, to the national team.
Kappy adds, “Probably our single, biggest charitable donation is with Special Olympics and always has been. Earlier in my career, I taught Special Needs kids in a classroom. I strongly believe that gymnastics is a sport that can be done by everyone, not just elite gymnasts”.
To that end, GMR has enjoyed a long relationship with Cindy Bickman’s group at Chattooga Gymnastics where we offer support to their rhythmic gymnastics team, as they train their athletes and travel to perform and assist other clubs, internationally, with their disability gymnastics programs.
“It was an honor to feature some of Chattooga’s gymnasts in our 2016 catalogue,” says Kappy. “We feel it’s important to increase the visibility of disability gymnastics programs and to include those athletes in media that offers products to the community. We’ve had a lot of great feedback from special needs athletes and their parents who really appreciate seeing themselves represented in and by the industry.”
GMR’s gifts of gymnastics oriented products has not benefitted only the gymnastics community.
Once at a meet, Kappy met a woman connected with the Half the Sky foundation, an organization that works to improve Chinese orphanages and help children in their care.
Kappy learned that kids in Chinese orphanages, at that time, had almost no human contact or cuddling. They were basically placed in cribs where they just sat all day. There was no place for them to play nor was there a mentality that children need human contact, cuddling and space to play.
GMR sent them gymnastics mats to change that. Half the Sky worked with caregivers in the orphanages and trained them to cuddle and foster play for the children on the cushiony mats GMR sent. GMR sent hundreds of mats for several years to help foster change and greater well-being for the little ones in Chinese orphanages. Their gifts, along with work of Half the Sky, served to facilitate a sea change in China, when its economy grew, such that the government was able to offer greater resources to help care for orphaned children.
However, GMR doesn’t reserve its care only for kids without parents. Kappy and Mike, with the help of GMR, also work to rescue dogs, cats and horses.
Three dogs actually live at GMR. They have their own little air conditioned houses with runs and spaces to play. On the weekends, Mike and Kappy often bring the dogs into the office while they work when it’s quiet.
At their home, Mike and Kappy have built a shelter for their adopted cats to come and go with no less than 14 dog living quarters with runs runs and a barn with a pasture for re-homed horses! They and GMR have long made contributions to local rescue groups like Save the Horses and AARF (Atlanta Area Rescue Friends).
To that end, GMR offers their Choco line of grips and vault accessories in the brown, Choco-branded, special leather, a portion of the proceeds from which go to fund hay for horses and the various costs of their dog and cat rescue efforts.
If there’s anything that’s been constant in the 38 year evolution of GMR Gymnastics Sales, Inc. its the passion of its founder Mike and his partner in life and in business, Kappy. Mike and Kappy share a passion for gymnastics, its athletes and the community as a whole. They share compassion for that same community, as well as those who are in need of assistance, be they two or four legged beings.
Mike says, “I grew up with a gymnastics dream. That dream has changed over the years: from competing and winning in the Olympics as an athlete, to helping my boys team succeed in every competition they attended, to succeeding in the gymnastics industry by developing and innovating products and designing gyms that help others realize their gymnastics dreams. For me, it’s been everything gymnastics since I was 10 years old. For GMR, it’s been everything for gymnastics since 1978.”
Do you live in Men’s Gymnastics Region 8? (Hint: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee).
Do you know, coach or parent an accomplished, senior male gymnast who enjoys a stellar GPA at his high school? If so, we’d love to consider him for our annual 10.0 Award!
Every year, we accept and review nominations of excellent high school male gymnasts, who live in the Region 8 area, who might benefit as recipients of our 10.0 Award. Candidates must submit a biography outlining their gymnastics accomplishments, their academic record and a short essay describing their extra-curricular activities.
Winners receive the glass sculpture, you see pictured here, which features a male gymnast training circles on our first product: The Mushroom™, developed in 1978 to train pommel horse skills.
Coaches and judges from Region 8 vote on the candidate whom they think should win.