Where did Gymfinity come from?

My brother was great at every sport he did. When he went to high school, every coach practically begged him to be on their team. But, he opted to try something he never tried before, I guess he was looking for a challenge. So, he went out for gymnastics. My brother Harold had to watch me after school, which is when he had gymnastics practice. I would sit on the floor of the gym and watch guys that would become my heroes doing skill work, and though I was just a little kid, I would say “I can do that.” Then the team guys would tell me to try it. Turns out I couldn’t do “that” yet, but trying was fun.

When I made it to high school, I, of course did gymnastics. I wasn’t great, but I loved it and having never been accepted by the big jocks of other sports, it was a place where I could feel a part of something. As a summer job I coached in a city rec program during the day, and supervised an open gym at the high school every night. When budget cuts took men’s gymnastics away, I couldn’t just quit so I trained with the girls team. When they were at risk of losing their program because the coach left, we found a music teacher who knew nothing of gymnastics, but was willing to be a figure head while I coached the girls and worked out alongside them. What I didn’t know was that the gift gymnastics was giving me back then was determination, drive, and the responsibility of being a kid coaching girls my age and older. I had better know what I was doing so, I studied. In the early 80’s Youtube was called “books” and I found many how-to books that could help me understand biomechanics, progressions, and team leadership.

Gymfinity J Orkowski

When I went to college I just wanted to be a coach and so my logical major was Physical Education. I followed a path toward sports medicine and athletic training for a while, but when they told me I would have to relinquish my gymnastics to go further in the professional program, I chose gymnastics. I had fought to do gymnastics my whole life, I wasn’t going to give it up voluntarily.

My Freshman year I fractured a Cervical vertebrae and was out for the season. When gymnastics was taken away again, I turned to coaching to stay in the gym. Not the most confidence inspiring picture to see the guy in the cervical collar teaching your kid to do flips, but the program director gave me a chance. I coached that program for 4 years, then moved to a local club, then a local YWCA. I assistant coached my college women’s team to the first (and counting!) of 16 National titles. After graduation I got a job assistant coaching at a different University, but they only paid the assistant coach AFTER the season ended. So, starving and behind on my rent I made the move to Madison. Here, I coached in a club for 5 years before we parted ways. I went to a small gym that had less than 60 kids in the whole program. During my tenure there we grew to over 300 kids and my friends kept telling me that I had proof of concept, I needed to start my own gym. But I was a coach. I had no money.

Enter my partners, who had the cash and were dissatisfied with how their daughters were being coached at their current gym. We talked and the arrangement became me running the gym, and them handling the “money”. I knew how to coach a team, but I didn’t know how to run a business. So I went to the old fashioned Youtube again, books. Lots of books. I called industry consultants for advice. When they would tell me that consultation had a price, I would say “yeah, I understand, but I just have one question…” In our industry everyone is so helpful because we all want the community to grow. I owe so much to those sages that went before me. I got thousands of free consultations from industry leaders because they wanted to see a young guy with some crazy new ideas win.

So, Gymfinity was organized like the businesses I read about. I learned from many others about what to do, and I watched others still display what not-to-do. Being a little bit of a neat-freak, helped us cultivate our impression as clean and caring. Being a long-time coach, I selected and trained staff like a coach would; ever chasing perfection. I have always said that if better is possible, than good is not good enough. So, we are always working to improve. I didn’t want to run a good club. I wanted to run the best club.

I have had people review us and state that we seem a little “franchise-y”, which makes me laugh. Being our only location but being a product of a life-long passion, the business has been raised to be professional and efficient without ever losing the focus of putting kids first. Without ever forgetting that gymnastics teaches kids so much more than cartwheels. Franchises have to be professional and have business systems in place to assure a quality experience. If that’s how we “seem” then I say; Thank you.

Running Gymfinity now for 25 years, buying my partners out in 2005, buying the building in 2006, expanding it in 2014, I know we are still not done. I have now been working as a professional consultant in the children’s activity industry since 2010 and I hear all the time, J you have proof of concept, you need to open more gyms. But my heart is here. I have one gym. We run it to be the best we can be. We work in our gym every day, and never resent the hours and the sacrifices we made to get this far. I don’t know that doing it somewhere else would have my heart the same way.

We may only seem to be “franchise-y” but there are many programs out there that have learned the Gymfinity way and went on to grow and build their own empires based on the groundwork we have done here. When a new gym owner calls me for advice, I have to tell them that consulting has a price. I usually hear that they understand but just have a few questions, so we chat. Off the clock. A few hours later when we hang up, I know that our one location doesn’t need to span out. It’s growing the sport just how I grew, with dedication and heart.

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