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Coaching 25 years of gymnastics in a pack-up gym

'The community has always been so supportive': Lisa Brougham reflects on 25 years of gymnastics coaching on Bowen Island

On Friday afternoons, a team of parents and coaches pull out the floormats, pommel horse, still rings and other large pieces of equipment and transform the Bowen Island Community School gym into a gymnastics centre. Saturday afternoon, they take all of the equipment down, store it away. And the next week, they do it again. So has been the routine for the past 25 years for Lisa Brougham. 

There are no points for artistry and composition – but it’s all part of the job that keeps Bowen Island Gymnastics Club’s program coordinator coming back year after year. 

In the early days, before there was soccer or dance on the island, gymnastics was the big thing on Bowen. They’d have well over 100 kids enrolled in gymnastics, says Brougham. “There were no other really organized things.”

Brougham moved to Bowen the day she gave birth to her daughter Callie, in September 1996. 

The new Islander had worked in gymnastics before but had no intention of starting a club on-island. But, word spread as it does in small towns. The on-island rec program had some equipment and the coordinator of the day, Colleen Huskisson, asked Brougham to do some coaching. 

“It snowballed from there because there was a bunch of girls in their teens and they really needed something.”

A group of parents, including D.G. Blair and Brougham, started fundraising, bought equipment, and eventually became a non-profit club. 

In the quarter century since, BIGC has hosted Western Gymnaestrada and zone five championships and has attended the non-competitive team display event World Gymnaestrada three times. “I’ve probably taught thousands of kids on Bowen Island in 25 years.”

The thousands of kids include Brougham’s own daughters and now, they’re grown up, and BIGC has turned into a family gig. Callie, 25, has coached in Squamish, Fernie and New Zealand, and is back, helping Brougham run the club while also attending school full-time. Brougham’s other daughter Katie, works full-time elsewhere but does some coaching too. 

“I’ve had really good coaches who travel from off island to come and coach because they really like the vibe in our gym,” says Brougham. “It is a really special small-town vibe.”

In the early days Brougham juggled a job as recreation director at Vancouver Phoenix Gymnastics – with its 5,000 kids and 50 coaches and staff – and Bowen’s rag-tag club that depends on parent volunteers and coaches spending two hours a week on the laborious task of setting up and taking down the gym. Though it used to be more commonplace, BIGC is  one of the last setup-take-down gyms around, something Brougham doesn’t see changing (there isn’t necessarily demand for a full-time gym.) 

The BIGC kids only train twice a week, so the club’s goal isn’t to produce Olympians, it’s to have kids enjoy gymnastics. “We do have gymnasts who compete, but our atmosphere is for kids to learn good gymnastics and have fun.”

Following a year-and-a-half hiatus because of the pandemic, Brougham thought it may be time to leave the club behind, but with her daughter in town to help, she decided to keep going and classes resumed this fall. 

“And holy cow has the uptake been amazing,” says Brougham. Classes filled up in a week. 

These days, over the nine hours of classes every weekend, BIGC sees 86 kids between the ages of one and 14. Usually, there’d be adult classes, but those are not yet running because of COVID-19. 

“It’s great to be back,” says Brougham. “Every year you get attached to a new group of kids.”

Most of the gymnasts go on to other things, but Brougham tries to encourage them to get their coaching certification. “So many have and have coached back in our gym and then gone off to university and coached while they’re in university.”

For Brougham herself, while she’s gone on to other management jobs – ski patrol at Cypress, the kayak shop on Bowen, ski school at Whistler – Bowen gymnastics has been her constant. 

“It’s just been a really special thing,” she said. “The community has always been so supportive.”