The Burgess Gymnastics Center is a well-recognized childhood staple for many M-A students and community members. Unexpectedly, however, gymnasts and community members alike found the center closed as soon as the COVID-19 pandemic hit—with little explanation as to why, and when the gymnasium would re-open. Finally, on November 15, 2022, the Burgess gymnasium officially reopened, with four staff members and over four hundred children to teach. While a challenge to reopen, the gymnasium has since flourished, with almost seven hundred young gymnasts signed up right now.
Gymnasium manager Karen Mihalek explained, “Our program was shut down because of COVID-19. I remember being at a city council meeting, and they moved my speaking time to 11 pm. Before my turn came around, they had already decided to shut down the program indefinitely.”
The reason for the indefinite shutdown was the belief that the gymnastics program was a financial burden. After this decision, the entire gymnastics staff was laid off, including Mihalek. “We all had to find jobs elsewhere. I actually went into retirement,” she said. Meanwhile, most of the kids participating in gymnastics went to other gymnastics facilities or stopped. Mihalek explained, “Gymnastics is considered childcare, so when COVID hit all the private clubs, they were able to reopen under childcare laws. For us, everything depended on the city.” For many children across Menlo Park, the loss of the gym was heartbreaking. “I would literally see kids standing outside of the gym doors crying and banging on the windows,” recalled Mihalek.
For two years and nine months, the gym stood exactly the way it had the day the closing was announced. Then, finally, in July of 2022, Mihalek received a call. “They asked me, ‘Hey, we secured the gym—how soon can you reopen it?’”
The reopening took hard work from Mihalek and the rest of the Burgess staff. Between major disinfecting, replacing the aerial silks, and emptying out the gym’s massive foam pit, it was truly an endeavor. “At that point, it felt like opening a new business,” Mihalek said. “You have to get memberships to qualify for insurance. You have to find new staff; you have to hope that the people who were here and loved their jobs so much will come back.”
“I really have to thank my staff,” said Mihalek. “These guys are just so remarkable. They’ve been teaching over seven hours a day. They’re so dedicated and they just love the kids so incredibly much.”
As for high school students looking to get back into gymnastics, Mihalek said, “Come on down!” Between the silks and Stretch and Strength classes, gymnastics at Burgess doesn’t have to be a childhood memory. “More than that, I love giving kids their first jobs. We love hiring the kids in the community,” she said.
Senior Amelia Porier, who did gymnastics at Burgess for four years, said, “It was very fun and high-energy. The girls and coaches were nice and practices were always a good time. I enjoyed my time there.”
Mihalek said, “I think this whole experience has proven that this gym belongs to the community, not the city. We’ve received so much support, and are so grateful for the community.”