Ready for the SA champs

Gymnastics coach Riyaanah Dirks, right, guides Nikita Nimmerhout and Azaliah Smith through a straddle hold move.

Dirks discovered her passion for gymnastics after she broke both her legs at the age of six, when she fell off the top of her double bunk bed.

A former Blomvlei Primary School pupil, it was at school where she learnt the fundamentals of the sport. And, despite moving to Mitchell’s Plain in Grade 3, Dirks continued to commute to her old hometown to train at the community centre.

During her time springing through the various levels of gymnastics, Dirks made the Western Province team but was unable to represent the country during the apartheid regime.

She said that’s all in the past and now aims to give her young students the chance to supersede her achievement, and allow them to follow their dreams in the sport.

Nikita Nimmerhout, 13, and Sameer Abrahams, 12, are two of the senior gymnasts at Wasabi. They earned their Western Province colours, last month, and will lead Wasabi Gymnastics at the SA Championships later this year.

“Once I recovered from my accident I was super flexible and the school spotted my talent.

“Myself and assistant coach Dillan de le Cruz started the gymnastics programme at Cedar High School, in Mitchell’s Plain, four years ago. We had only eight gymnasts at the time – six girls and two boys – who came from Cedar High, Wavecrest and Hillside primary schools,” said Dirks.

“But we have grown quite well and have 104 gymnasts at the club.

“Our plan was to mold the learners for a year. And, when we were ready to compete and were looking to join a league, that’s when we linked up with Wasabi – three years ago.

“Because we needed four coaches, two judges and an entire board to run as a fully fledged club, joining up with Wasabi was a good fit for us,” she said.

The majority of the gymnasts are from Cedar High School, with the others from Zeekoevlei Primary, Parkhood Primary and Spine Road High.

To achieve provincial colours is no walk in the park, or a couple of cartwheels and some back flips. It requires hours of training, blood, sweat and tears – and these youngsters have risen to the challenge.

“Last year October our gymnasts made the Western Province team for the first time. Out of the 17 gymnasts who went for the trials, 13 made it. This year we sent 35 and 26 of them made the WP team at the trials held in Philippi.

“Our levels are not at its peak just yet. You need to be at level eight to get into the junior SA team and hopefully we can accomplish that next year,” said Dirks.

“Most of them have been jumping quite quickly through the levels in the past three years, so that’s a big accomplishment on its own. Usually a gymnast needs to stay in a level for one year, but because they’ve shown so much potential, the judges have been pushing them through rapidly,” she said.

A Grade 7 pupil at Zeekoevlei Primary School, Nikita – a level six gymnast – said she enjoys the challenge of the sport and the type of training she gets to do.

“I train at school and when it’s competition time then I train on Saturdays at Cedar High as well.

“I started doing gymnastics at the age of 10 and was happy when I made the WP team last year,” said Nikita.

“Gymnastics is not my only passion. I also enjoy playing soccer and I play for Phumlani Eagles as a midfielder,” she said.

Meanwhile, Sameer, a Grade 7 pupil at Hillside Primary, said he got into the sport after attending a training session with his friend, Alex Manual.

The youngster is also an avid soccer player and gets to showcase his skills while playing for Santos FC.

“I only started gymnastics last year and jumped straight into level four. I got my WP colours in my first year and got promoted to level six this year.

“When I came to watch my friend Alex at training, I thought I’d also give gymnastics a try and I stuck to it.

“I always enjoyed doing flips at home on the bed and at break time during school, my friends and I would do back flips into the sandpit,” said Sameer.

“I’ve been playing soccer for Santos since the age of seven, and won the player of the year and top goal scorer awards last season,” he said.

With the soccer season coming to an end, both Sameer and Nikita will shift focus to gymnastics as they prepare for the national championships in October, at the Wynberg Military Base.

* For more information on how to get involved with Wasabi Gymnastics or if you would like to help, contact Dirks on 063 125 4227 or Naeem Abrahams on 082 804 3465.