New gymnastics center offers a variety of competitive and recreational classes

by: JIM CLARK - Danita Rigert is the owner of Rigert Elite Gymnastics and has been coaching for nearly 20 years.For the boys and girls at Rigert Elite Gymnastics, the move into their new location at 831 N.W. Corporate Drive in Troutdale comes as a relief. Not only because the 3- to 18-year-olds now can catapult off brand-new beams or do back-flips on Olympic-standard mats, but because these 55-time state champions no longer are practicing in parks and using tree branches to do pull-ups.

When Troutdale resident Danita Rigert separated from Northwest Gymnastics Training Center in March to open her own gym, she had no building in which to hold classes for the several families and four coaches that followed her from Northwest Gymnastics. Because Rigert’s students were in the heat of their competitive season, putting practices on pause was not an option. So the 21 students used school gymnasiums, local studios and public parks to hold trainings until Rigert opened the new building in early June.

“They aren’t just the average kid who goes to school and can go to P.E. and win a push-up contest,” said Rigert, who is also the head coach. “They’re training so hard.”

For many of the now 60 students at Rigert Elite, sights are set high — and not just on the bars.

Those in the competitive program practice four hours a day, five days a week, some with the hopes of going to college on a scholarship or making it to the Olympics.

But Rigert says there is more to her program than mastering the perfect double-hand spring.

“We want kids to be active,” Rigert said, “even if they don’t go on to college or the Olympics. It teaches them how to work hard, exercise for life, study better and manage their time.”

Students in the competitive program are required to show Rigert their report cards and receive As and Bs. The kids also participate in events such as Troutdale’s SummerFest, Gresham’s Teddy Bear Parade and the Portland Trail Blazers’ half-time show.

The kids’ strong work ethic may stem from Rigert’s own driven demeanor. Growing up in Texas, Rigert did recreational gymnastics as a child and played basketball and did cheerleading competitively during high school.

She was offered college scholarships, but broke her back in a car crash her senior year and was forced to retire from sports.

Instead of leaving the athletic world altogether, Rigert concentrated her efforts on coaching, which she had been doing since age 16. Now, more than 20 years after her first class, she uses her Texas-trained mind to mold children into well-grounded and balanced athletes.

“Everything is hard-core in Texas. Oregon is a little more laid back,” Rigert said. “But I bring a little bit of Texas with me. You know, ‘Let’s train, let’s be the best we can be.’”

For those who prefer a non-competitive environment, Rigert’s gym provides a variety of options. Students can choose between ballet, tumbling, recreational gymnastics, toddler tumble and fundamental courses. Home schooling classes also are available for children who need to fulfill a P.E. requirement.

Regardless of the activity, Rigert tries to create an environment where people feel welcome.

“We offer the professional-oriented side and the family-oriented side,” Rigert said. “We have great families here. Everybody feels comfortable coming in and that they’re cared about.”

And this community environment is exactly what Rigert envisioned when she bought the 11,500-square-foot building, which used to house American Flyte gymnastics. The space is equipped with gymnastics equipment, but also a children’s play area, benches for families to watch from and a kitchen used after classes or for weekend birthday parties.

To enroll in classes, families pay an average of $50 a month for once-a-week recreational classes and $250 per month for competitive classes five days a week. Because the cost can deter children from participating, Rigert plans to offer scholarships in the future.

“I wasn’t competitive because my parents couldn’t afford it,” Rigert said. “But I want to help them. It’s not necessarily about being a gymnast. It’s about being the best person they can be, and that’s important to me.”

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