In 2003, a strange situation arose and led to my business partner and I helping to salvage a business that cultivated a love for children that I previously never possessed.
The two people I met while fixing up this business became fast friends, and they taught me the joys of teaching gymnastics to kids, and for the next few years, we had an adventure that I will forever remember fondly.
Paul La Grua, his wife Cassi and their two young daughters became a part of my daily life. Always incredibly resourceful, he somehow helped my business partner and I become the first two NCAP (National Coaching Accreditation Programme) qualified gymnastics coaches in Singapore.
I taught classes in primary and international schools, community centres and country clubs, always encouraged by the boundless energy Cassi and Paul brought to their lessons.
We finally made enough money one day to be able to afford a beer after a class at an international school on Orchard Road. And that was when Paul said he wanted to give back to the community by organising free gymnastics classes for special needs children.
We rented Bishan Sports Hall (one of very few gymnastics halls in Singapore) for a weekly Saturday session, and advertised by word of mouth, and the help of an ST journalist, free (after deciding to foot the costs ourselves) gymnastics for special needs children.
The response after the first lesson was tremendous. The line outside Bishan Sports Hall snaked around the complex. It was difficult to organise, and we were on our toes every single second – and to this day I remember how we had to have Spider-Man’s reflexes to handle two autistic children who ran up to commandeer a trampoline.
The programme ranks as one of the most rewarding things I have ever done, I remember mrbrown bringing Faith for a session too. The joys of the kids and their parents at these sessions were so palpable and simply freaking great that it made all the extreme exhaustion that followed later worth every ache and pain.
Paul La Grua was a champion youth gymnast in his day – he almost made the Olympic team in the 70s. But more importantly, he shared with me the same satisfaction of bringing the joy of movement to children who yearn the same, but have difficulty doing and enjoying so.
Paul passed away in the U.S. this week. He is survived by Cassi and their two children.
I hope to be able to remember him by reviving the gymnastics session for special needs children. I challenge Sports Singapore to give me Bishan Hall rent-free for this purpose. I will find the coaches who will be able to help. Parents of special needs children who are in support of my idea, please contact me here and let me know how you can help.
See you next time, Paul. I’ll get coaches who can catch two autistic kids on a trampoline when we organise classes for them again. And I’ll remember that the coaches need to have long arms.