Climb. Crawl. Jump. Kick. Dance. Go!

Those aren't the typical instructions for a fitness class, but at ThunderFitness, 2808 E. Prospect Road, in York Township, being different is the norm.

ThunderFitness, a new gym that caters to children 7 to 12 years old, uses a program that incorporates fitness, physical education, play and socialization, said owner and program director Cathy Ankeny.

Ankeny, of Manchester Township, began her business because she said it was difficult to find fitness activities - other than organized sports - for her son, Garret, 10.

About two years ago, with help from Garret and his friends, Ankeny started to design the program that would become the children's fitness facility.

"I did a vision board .

Cathy Ankeny
Cathy Ankeny (SUBMITTED)
. . a large piece of cardboard that was in my living room. I would cut out pieces of equipment from physical education catalogs," she said. "Every child who walked into the house would take a marker and circle items that seemed interesting. Many things I thought would be of interest to the kids didn't necessarily work for them."

Wendy Durika's 9-year-old son, Tommy, played soccer and baseball in the past, but the lack of flexibility in team sports made her seek an alternate fitness option for her son.

ThunderFitness opened in January and holds classes 4:30 to 8:15 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and 4:30 to 7 p.m. Fridays. The gym also hosts fitness parties 10 a.m. to noon Saturdays and parents can choose how often their children visit the gym - they don't have to attend the same class time every night.

"What's unique about the program is that it is so focused on the kids doing what they find is fun, which keeps them engaged," said Durika, of Windsor Township. "You don't find that in organized sports, you don't find that in other programs. This keeps them engaged and having fun while still being active, which is so important.

Cathy Ankeny, center, leads a group of children in a parachute game at ThunderFitness. Ankeny opened the business after she had trouble finding activities
Cathy Ankeny, center, leads a group of children in a parachute game at ThunderFitness. Ankeny opened the business after she had trouble finding activities for her son, Garret, that weren t organized sports. (DAILY RECORD/SUNDAY NEWS -- JASON PLOTKIN)
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Ankeny and her staff of four use the kids-know-what-they-like philosophy during class time at ThunderFitness.

"The children are brutally honest with me - if they don't like something, they'll say so," she said. "In the middle of something, if they don't like it, they'll tell you immediately. You have to stop and rearrange your plan . . . because you can't force them to do anything."

To keep her athletes interested and engaged in exercise, Ankeny changes the program nightly. The gym rarely looks the same twice.

"We are trying to get (the kids) to do many different activities so they can develop the skills they need to be active adults," Ankeny said. "With video games and other media, their attention shifts so quickly. Adults will stick with a boot camp class because they know it's good for them even if it's boring.

"Children, when asked to do something that's strictly fitness - like push-ups, jump rope, steps or dumbbells - they get bored in about ten minutes. We can do those things, we just have to make it edgy."

In a given night, a class at ThunderFitness can include anything from rock climbing and yoga to boxing and basketball and anything in between - much different than other children's gyms Ankeny has visited.

"A typical children's fitness center is small pieces of adult equipment - small strength training equipment, small rowing machines, small treadmills," Ankeny said. "Kids like the buttons and the idea (of the equipment), but it can't hold their attention."

Ankeny said the children she teaches seem to be having a good time in the ThunderFitness program.

"The kids seem really excited," she said. "They are learning important skills that they have to get right now to be healthy adults, but they don't know they're learning."

Shelby Dietz, whose 5- and 9-year-old sons Logan and Peyton take classes at ThunderFitness, said her kids enjoy Ankeny's program.

"They don't get bored," said Dietz, of Windsor Township. "My oldest son was in football and took some karate classes. In karate, sometimes they had to sit on the side and watch . . . (at ThunderFitness) they are always doing something. They seem to like the activity more."

Durika also said Tommy has come into his own a little bit since joining ThunderFitness.

Sage Richards, 8, participates in a fitness class Monday at ThunderFitness.
Sage Richards, 8, participates in a fitness class Monday at ThunderFitness. (DAILY RECORD/SUNDAY NEWS -- JASON PLOTKIN)

"He's not a real social kind of kid, so it's great that he gets excited about going," she said. "Cathy works with his strengths and his weaknesses to kind of bring out the best in him."

About Cathy Ankeny

Cathy Ankeny, owner and program director at ThunderFitness, has a bachelor's degree in corporate fitness and a master's degree in education, specifically health sciences.

For the past 25 years, she has worked in the fitness industry, including time as a fitness coordinator for Norwegian Cruise Lines, a personal trainer for the royal family of Saudi Arabia and as assistant director of wellness for the United States Department of the Treasury.

"For the past 10 years, I've focused on taking care of my son because he's the priority," Ankeny said. "Work-wise, I've been running a personal training business, specializing in people with chronic conditions and those with physical and mental challenges."

Ankeny said her work with people 65 and older also helped her shape the program for ThunderFitness.

"I developed a wellness and aquatics program at a retirement community, and believe it or not, that experience has been helpful in putting the program together," she said. "That was for a very niche demographic and this is also a very niche demographic."

Classes at ThunderFitness

After one free trial class, cost of a one-month membership for children 7 to 12 years old at ThunderFitness is $75, with each additional child enrolled for $10 off.

The monthly membership includes up to two, one-hour fitness classes each day, 4:30 to 8:15 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and 4:30 to 7 p.m. Fridays, as well as a fitness party 10 a.m. to noon Saturdays.

Ten-class and one-class passes also are available for $130 and $15, respectively. The facility also offers birthday parties for children 5 and older.

Class activities include tumbling, martial arts, weight training, yoga, obstacle courses, dance, climbing, basketball and more.

For details about ThunderFitness, visit www.thunderfitnessyorkpa.com, call Cathy Ankeny at 717-885-5940 or email cathya1@comcast.net.

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