Ascend Gymnastics aims to let children know they are welcomed and loved regardless of their differences, according to co-owner and coach Cale Robinson.
Robinson, who opened the gym with his life-partner Owen Sun and business partners Brent and Lauren Phelps, said they wanted to create a place for all people in the community to feel comfortable. As LGBTQ owners, he said, it’s a priority to bring inclusion to athletics.
“We're excited to be part of the community,” he said. “We hope to meet more people and just open our doors to the community in any way we can help.”
The facility, which was previously used for indoor soccer, officially opened four weeks ago. Woodinville marks the fourth Ascend location, and the others can be be found in Auburn, Sumner and Dupont.
According to Robinson, the idea to manage a gymnastics facility that catered to all people was always in the back of his mind. Growing up, his parents owned a small-town gymnastics facility in Tennessee. As a result, he said, his passion for gymnastics began at a young age.
“I was kind of like your proverbial gym rat,” he said. “I just lived in the gym as a kid. It's always been what I love and what motivates me.”
During his club career, Robinson earned a spot on the U.S. Junior National Team and traveled internationally to compete with the world’s best gymnasts. He went on to compete for Stanford University, and was part of the team that won its 100th NCAA championship in 2011.
Robinson knew from a young age that he wanted to coach, he said. In fact, he coached throughout high school at his club gym and then volunteered in college for the Stanford women’s team.
Robinson said he was part of Stanford’s first push for LGBTQ inclusion in athletics. He worked with the You Can Play Project in college to develop a culture of respect for all people in sports, he said.
To continue with this effort, Ascend Gymnastics is selling rainbow-themed leotards in honor of Pride Month. He said all the proceeds will go directly toward the You Can Play Project. The gym will also be hosting a Pride event for members of the community on Saturday, June 19, from 4:30-7:30 p.m.
According to Robinson, this facility offers classes and instruction for all skill levels. He said it’s a place for those just getting started with gymnastics and those trying to get college scholarships. The ages typically range from infants to 18-year-olds, he said, although adult open gym sessions will also be an option.
Robinson, who has a 20-month-old baby with Sun, hosts two free baby classes each week for parents to network and babies to explore different surfaces and textures. From there, he said, children graduate to Tiny Stars and Mini Stars, where they work on motor skills and social skills, such as following directions and taking turns.
The facility includes co-ed ninja classes for children, which combines skills inspired by gymnastics and parkour. Robinson said the sessions are designed to teach kids how to jump, land safety, flip around, and play on different types of equipment.
In an effort to cater to everybody, Robinson said, the gym is also creating a special needs program. He aims to promote an environment where self-esteem can be developed through team building and positive social interactions, he said.
Teams are also available for middle and high school students, he said. For more experienced gymnasts, Ascend Woodinville competes in the USA Gymnastics Xcel and Development Program.
Robinson’s team designed an elevated platform in the facility specifically for high-level training. According to him, part of elite level training is preserving the kids’ bodies in order to last through the rigors that the sport requires.
To help with this, he said, the gym has loose foam pits for every event as well as soft mats for athletes to “crash and burn” while practicing. Trampolines and spring floors are also included for gymnasts to practice floor routines safely.
An upstairs area provides parents with a comfortable space to watch their kids, Robinson said. Plus, there is an event room for celebrations and gymnastics-themed birthday parties.
With a giant screen designed for watch parties, he said, Ascend Woodinville has opened just in time for the Summer Olympics to bring people together.
“I think it will just be unifying. That's what the Olympics do,” he said. “By bringing people together, you forget about your differences. And this is the best timing for that.”