At the new Mini Gym that opened this week in downtown Mandan, toddlers somersault down sloped mats and walk the low-to-the-ground balance beams practicing their “airplane arms” for better balance.
The gym is inside the Copper Dog Cafe, which serves up waffles and coffee on Main Street.
Gymnastics and waffles make for an odd combination, but the owners of Copper Dog Cafe had extra space inside the business and needed to figure out what to do with it. They kicked around a few ideas and, given the family’s gymnastics background, settled on a gym for young children.
Cathy and Randy Ehlis’ kids all participated in gymnastics, with their two daughters reaching Level 10, the level right below elite. Elite gymnasts are the best in the country, with several making the Olympic team every four years.
Cathy Ehlis participated in gymnastics herself as a teenager. And long ago she coached at Dakota Star Gymnastics, where demand for classes today is high.
“People came up to me and asked if I had any pull on how to get their kids into classes,” she said.
Sensing the need, she and her husband decided to offer classes for children up to age 6 with the space in back of Copper Dog.
Dakota Star program manager Amanda Lantz said her gym has added 100 more spots for gymnasts since moving into the Starion Sports Complex in 2017, and it's still not able to accommodate everyone.
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Copper Dog, with its focus on young gymnasts, will be a good addition to Mandan, she said.
"That’s great to keep them occupied until they get into our classes," she said.
Copper Dog is co-owned by the Ehlises and their daughter and son-in-law, Brittany and Mike Kennedy.
The gym is located in a back room and has a trampoline, two bars and a number of mats and low beams. It also offers dance classes and birthday parties.
The goal, Cathy Ehlis said, is to give kids a place to run around and burn off energy.
“We want them to have some body awareness and agility,” she said, adding that those skills will help kids excel in other sports they pursue.
Down the road if she can find more coaches, Ehlis would like to add yoga, cheerleading and “gladiator” classes, where children learn how to move through obstacle courses. She said the family kept kids with special needs in mind when building the gym and has tried to make the facility wheelchair-accessible and include features such as dimming lights to accommodate children with autism.
The family scoured Craigslist and Facebook’s Marketplace for lightly used equipment and traveled around the western part of the country to pick pieces up and bring them back to Mandan. They also built a small balance beam about 8 inches wide, double the width of a standard beam, for kids to walk and crawl across.
Parents interested in signing their kids up for classes can visit www.minigymnd.com.