The People of Balance 180: Krista Vandenborne

Krista Vandenborne is one of the driving forces behind Balance 180. Without her Balance 180 would not be what is it today. Her vision for the program and commitment to the students, athletes and Gainesville community is nothing less than extraordinary.

When Krista, Carsten and three other board members at the time started Balance 180, they had no background in running a non-profit. They didn’t know how to put their dreams into action but what they did know is that they had a mission. A mission to bring gymnastics and gymnastics related activities to children of all abilities in Gainesville.

“We had no business experience,” Krista said, “We were grandiose and naïve. We didn’t know the first thing about how to start a non-profit.”

Balance 180 started out with a couple of pieces of gymnastics equipment and a rented floor space at Florida Team Cheer.

Krista recalls packing up all of the gymnastics equipment and stuffing it into a car after work, so that they could set up for class. Each time they would move the equipment to the gym, set up for two hours, hold a two-hour class, and then break it all down again, like a traveling circus.

The first ever program Balance 180 offered was the Special Olympics program with 14 athletes. Today, the organization has two fully equipped gyms and over 650 athletes.

“Starting out was definitely a reality check,” Krista said. “We had to start small and grow step by step.”

When Krista’s son, Sean, was little she enrolled him in a recreational gymnastics class. Sean has a learning disability and sensory integration dysfunction. He struggled with fine motor skills and wasn’t the most graceful gymnast in the group.  Krista smiled as she reflected on his time as a gymnast.

“He benefited from doing gymnastics. I saw how much he enjoyed it, even though his toes weren’t pointed and his knees were flexed, there was just this look of pride on his face.”

Krista said she knew when they started planning to create a non-profit gymnastics center, it had to include children like Sean. She said she wanted a place where children of all abilities could grow and learn gymnastics together.

“To me, Balance 180 is a place for kids to feel safe, to feel cared for, and a place where they can build confidence.”

Krista said confidence is the key to success. She remembers working with Sean when he was younger and noticing that he didn’t have the confidence to try things. Her goal is for every athlete to walk into the gym, have fun and walk out with a little more confidence than they started with.

“I always want the kids to leave with an extra bounce in their step, and I think that little bounce tells me they feel good about themselves.”

Balance 180 currently has over 200 volunteers and Krista has made it her mission to create an infrastructure for them to learn and grow professionally.

“The volunteers and the students put their heart and soul into Balance 180, and they make it what it is today,” She said. “They bring so much energy, and so much enthusiasm and a part of my role is to help nurture that and guide them.”

Krista said she believes Gainesville is a wonderful community that offered Balance 180 a unique opportunity. With two institutions dedicated to educating and training students, the University of Florida and Santa Fe College have so many incredible young people willing to give their free time to the community.

“The Gainesville community is very supportive of nonprofit organizations,” she said. “We are very fortunate to have been able to build Balance 180 in Gainesville; I think it was the perfect place for what we do.”

Krista said she believes Balance 180 still has a lot of room for growth and is excited to continue to serve the Gainesville community.

“I can’t wait to see what’s next,” she said.

Thank you, Krista, for all you do.

Written by Julie Walter.

The People of Balance 180: Alyssa Harris

Alyssa Harris’ passion has always been movement. From a young age, she has participated in gymnastics, competitive cheerleading, and Pilates.  When she discovered her love of dance she threw herself into the art, studying and performing it every day from then on out.

Alyssa went to the New World School of the Arts, a performing arts school in downtown Miami, where her entire life revolved around the art of dance. She woke up before the sun came up to ride the metro to her school, attended academic classes all day and then attended dance classes, rehearsed for upcoming performances, took the metro rail home and danced at her local studio until the sun was long gone.

When Alyssa graduated high school and made a move to Gainesville to attend the University of Florida, she decided to share her love of dance with the Gainesville community.

She is the line dance chair for Alpha Epsilon Phi and choreographs the organization’s dances for various philanthropy events to benefit the Alzheimer Association, CHOMP Cancer, Huntsman, Cancer Foundation, Elizabeth Glazer Pediatric Aids Foundation, Sharsheret and more.

Alyssa has also been a coach at Balance 180 for the last three years. She is kind and patient and loves working with the athletes.

“I want the athletes to improve the best they can, but still have fun while they are doing it,” Alyssa said.

When Alyssa first started at Balance 180, she assisted the competitive gymnastics team by focusing her attention on their dance and form. Gymnastics routines can be very technical and with Alyssa’s help, the competitive team athletes learned grace and technique.

She currently coaches pre-team, a group of athletes that works on foundational skills to join the competitive team. Alyssa also coaches recreational classes, adaptive gymnastics and serves as our very talented choreographer.

She designed the dances for the Candy Cane Classic, various summer camp dances and Balance 180 performances at the Gators Gymnastics meets. Alyssa said she has grown as a person and has learned a lot throughout her time as a Balance 180 coach.

“I’ve learned how to be really patient whether it’s working with kids or other people,” Alyssa said. “Being a leader is not just standing up and saying ‘this is what we are going to do’ it’s about listening to your surroundings and having that 180-degree view.”

Alyssa is currently studying Applied Physiology and Kinesiology with a goal of using her love of movement to become a physical therapist.

She was previously an intern at the Israel Sports Center for Disabled Children and Adults. There she worked with children of all abilities ranging from cerebral palsy, epilepsy and cognitive impairments. She also worked with adults who had Parkinson’s and were wheelchair bound or used other assistive devices. The primary challenge with her internship was that most of the patients did not speak English.

“I had to pay close attention to their body language,” Alyssa said. “I used what I had learned through dance and movement to communicate with children and adults at the sports center.”

Thank you, Alyssa, for sharing your story.

Written by Julie Walter.

People of Balance 180 – Carsten Schmalfuss

You’ve seen him emceeing our annual events, dressing up in crazy costumes, and he is the one responsible for stocking the bathrooms with toilet paper. Our president, Carsten Schmalfuss, is genuinely a master juggler. We often like to joke that he’s Balance 180’s very own Batman because he operates in the night, comes willingly when we call, and he always saves the day.

In 2012, five dedicated members of our community banded together to create a nurturing place for children who enjoy gymnastics. A place where kids of all abilities can learn how to be physically active, gain a sense of accomplishment, and make friends. A place where parents can come together, watch their children have fun, and be a part of an extended family.

Carsten recalls a time where Balance 180 was just a concept, “It all started with an idea; and to transition from an idea to reality was incredible. That this idea actually flies and meets the needs of the people in the community. That is awesome.”

Balance 180 got its name because it reminds us that life requires balance. Life can’t just all be about gymnastics or school or work. The 180 reflects a scale and of course in gymnastics 180 happens to be a perfect split, a skill all good gymnasts strive to obtain.

Carsten is a cardiologist who is loved by his patients and staff. He has two daughters, Kiki and Veronika, and moved here from Germany as a medical resident together with his wife Ilona, a well-respected neuroradiologist. As a clinician and parent of former gymnasts, Carsten appreciates how beneficial sports such as gymnastics can be to children’s development.

Carsten says, “Gymnastics is an excellent tool that we can use to teach kids about community, interactions, physical fitness and time management.”

His proudest moment was when he realized that Balance 180 fills a need in the community and has how much support and encouragement we have received as well as how many people have enjoyed our programs.

Carsten hopes for the future that Balance 180 in its core function will be around well beyond the founders’ retirement. He said, “I hope that we put something on a path that will continue to run and be a great resource for our community.”

All of us at Balance 180 are so grateful for Dr. Schmalfuss’ commitment and vision, and the love he pours into our facility and community.

Written by Julie Walter.

 

Team Florida Goes for the Gold!

With the first week of July comes the kick-off of National Hot Dog Month, National Ice Cream Month, National Picnic Month, and the patriotic spirit for the 4th of July. But what you may not know is amidst all the summer celebration also comes the start of the Special Olympics 2018 USA Games. The 2018 USA Games take place every 2 years with athletes from all over the United States. This year they are held in Seattle, Washington. This special and monumental event began with an opening ceremony on Sunday at the University of Washington’s Huskey Stadium to honor the 3,000 athletes that will be competing in the Games from Sunday, July 1st to Friday, July 6th. The Special Olympics flag was also raised all the way to the top of the Space Needle to honor the Games, the athletes, the ideals of Special Olympics, and its 50th anniversary.

One of the biggest goals of Special Olympics is to encourage acceptance of all individuals of varying abilities. Each day Special Olympics strives towards inclusion in athletics, and these 2018 USA Games are just one of the many ways in which they will showcase that. In addition to celebrating these games, Special Olympics participants will also be celebrating the 50th anniversary of Special Olympics in honor of Eunice Shriver, who was the founder of Special Olympics and the one who started this movement towards inclusive sports. These Games are an impactful way to commemorate the road that Eunice Shriver paved, as well as all the accomplishments and progress that these athletes are making today.

The 2018 USA Games will consist of 14 different sports that athletes from all over the U.S. will be competing in over the span of a week. Specifically, Team Florida will have over 230 athletes competing in Athletics (track and field), Basketball, Bowling, Bocce, Flag Football, Golf, Gymnastics, Powerlifting, Soccer, Softball, Stand Up Paddle, Swimming, Tennis, and Volleyball. Team Florida headed to Seattle in style as the Miami Marlins baseball team hosted a special send-off on Friday, June 29th. Among these athletes were our friends from LEAP South Florida, who will be representing the Special Olympics Florida Gymnastics Team. The athletes of LEAP South Florida joined us last year here at Balance 180 for the 2017 Special Olympics Area Games. We will be cheering them on all the way from Gainesville as they go for the gold!

For more information and updates on the event, visit specialolympicsusagames.org. Results for Team Florida and specific events, such as Gymnastics, can also be found here! 

 

Written by Casey McLaughlin

How to Stay Fit While Traveling

Summer is finally here and school is out! Along with the excitement of lazy days by the pool comes the busiest vacation time of the year.

While many vacations are typically jam-packed with activities, athletes typically do not have time or equipment to practice their sport. But have no fear because there are many ways to stay fit and physically active while on vacation. Whether you’re in a hotel, a cabin in the woods, or a house on the beach there are many simple, yet fun exercises that you can do with your child to keep up their cardio and maintain strength. This will also help for a smoother transition when athletes return to their sport.

Road Trip

A lot of families pack up and hit the road for long road trips. While long drives can be a beautiful way to take in the scenery, children can also feel confined to the back seat. A good way to break up the drive and relieve some of that energy is to take full advantage of rest stops. If there is a grassy area that is safe and away from traffic, you could play a game of red light, green light or a quick game of tag. You can also give them a set of jumping jacks that they have to complete as fast as they can. This can be turned into a family challenge and see who can finish the set of jumping jacks the quickest. 

Mountains

At a house or cabin somewhere in the woods for a week or two? Not a problem. Hiking and walking on trails is a great physical activity that will help keep those legs moving and get that heart rate up. While you’re on a trail, you can make a fun challenge by playing Simon Says or Follow the Leader. You can start by walking then switching between variation of runs, such as skipping, “high knees,” sprinting, and jumping jacks, just to name a few.

 

 

 

 

Beach

If you’ve ever tried running on the beach you can attest to the fact that it’s much more difficult than any flat road. Whether you play a running game close to the shore line or higher up on the soft sand, you’re guaranteed to get a great workout.

In addition to that, here are some strength-building exercises:

  • Lunge walks down the beach (lower body)
  • Mountain climbers (lower body)
  • Shuttle runs down the beach (lower body)
  • Games on the beach
    • Beach volleyball, frisbee, or even playing catch

Hotel

Let’s say you’ve decided to go to Walt Disney World or some other destination for a week and you will be staying in a hotel. Walking around the theme parks all day is certainly a great way to keep moving and stay active, but if you find you have downtime in the hotel, here is a list of exercises that can be done in the hotel.

  • Push up position hold with high fives OR push ups with high fives (core and biceps)

          

  • Step ups on a chair (Quadricep and calf muscles) 

  • Squat to stand on a chair (quadricep muscles)

By: Casey McLaughlin