Experience the wonderful world of wheel gymnastics with Kesgrave’s Torwood Wheelers

Konrad Kantorowski flips from the wheel while coach John Colles looks on.

Konrad Kantorowski flips from the wheel while coach John Colles looks on. - Credit: Archant

Heading down to the Kesgrave Sports Hall on a weeknight, you would probably be forgiven for expecting to find clubs practising regular sports. But sharing hall space with the local badminton team on a Thursday evening is a rather more unexpected gathering.

The Torwood Wheelers practise the emerging art of wheel gymnastics – a sport so underground that only two clubs exist in the entire United Kingdom, with one of those only established in the last few months.

Here, you can expect enthusiastic members to spin, flip, climb and rotate within a giant wheel known as a Rhoenrad. As big as 7ft high, the wheels are used across three categories of competition – spiral, vault and straight-line.

Spiral events see gymnasts spinning in the wheel like a penny on a table, while vault involves flips, and straight-line features moves performed while the wheel is moving in a straight line.

Ranging from ages 13 at the youngest to 70 for the club’s founder and lead coach, the art of wheel gymnastics is one that is surprisingly inclusive for a highly-physical sport. But the experience can be daunting at first.

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Konrad Kantorowski, 30, who began the sport five years ago while he was performing regular gymnastics, said: “I gave it a go and absolutely hated it. Because I was already a gymnast, it was assumed I would be great in the beginning. But as soon as I learnt the basics I loved the sport and have been here ever since.”

But for others, the unusual nature and flowing movements were an instant hook. James Gardiner, 31, who is an experienced hand with 14 years under his belt added: “A friend of mine was doing it and it was a lot of fun really and just wanted to keep going.”

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While the moves look tricky and getting used to the demands of moving within a wheel are unusual at first, the club’s members are unanimous when they say it only takes one or two sessions to feel comfortable and begin progressing.

Kerry Buckley, the club’s newest member who began shortly after Christmas, said: “You get used to it surprisingly quickly. After going over a couple of times it feels fairly natural and you start getting more confident.”

The club began in 2000 when founder John Colles was looking for something different for the older members of an existing gymnastics club he was coaching. After acquiring the first wheels between 1997 and 2000, the gymnastics club were able to branch out, and the Torwood Wheelers came into being.

Once established, the club began performing at various events and continues to hold weekly sessions in Kesgrave with the 10 wheels it owns today.

But while the sport is still emerging in the UK, it is popular in mainland Europe, with dozens of clubs across Germany and the Netherlands in particular. Now, the Torwood Wheelers have joined their European counterparts and begun competing in international competitions. In February, Konrad Kantorowski and James Gardiner qualified for spots in the world championships in Italy in June, while youngest member Ceri-Ann Proctor, 13, missed out by half a point.

Mr Colles said: “It was surprising to do so well but really welcome. I have said this is the last year I am going to do. I am 70 now and James is going to take over it.”

The club continues to welcome new members and anyone interested should go to rhoenrad.co.uk, or attend a Thursday night session from 6pm at Kesgrave Sports Hall in Mead Drive.

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