The toddlers at Regal Gymnastics Academy in Essex are in a full-throttle energy burn during a Tuesday morning open-gym hour, scampering over colorful foam blocks, teetering on balance beams and dangling from parallel bars.
In another part of the brightly lit gym, several 4-year-olds "work out" on miniature exercise benches —with foam-rubber barbells — and pint-size treadmills, while others swing on nearby climbing ropes.
"They love it here," says Katie, the group's pony-tailed, twentysomething nanny. "This place is a dream!"
And not just for preschoolers. Regal's new multimillion-dollar athletics and recreational center, which opened in May, boasts top-of-the-line gymnastics equipment and an ambitious new coach determined to send a Vermonter to the Olympics. There's also a preschool, adult workout room, lounge, locker rooms and bistro. The kid party area features a stone castle made from five tons of Vermont-quarried granite and a $1200 hand-carved mahogany throne. Regal eschews paper products for real glassware, china and linen napkins.
The keeper of the castle is Regal's ultrahigh-energy
owner and founder, Erika Reeves. The 53-year-old mother of seven — her children range in age from 11 to 35 — says she channels all her energy into the gym, which occupies her seven days a week. In addition to having a Type-A personality, Reeves admits that running Regal is a form of therapy. Reeves' son, Mark, died of cancer in June 1998, just three days before his eighth birthday.
"You have two choices in life," she says. "I could have stayed home and been bitter for the rest of my life, or I can use him to be a positive force that drives me."