September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.

Flips on the farm

Rockland dairy family builds pole shed on their farm for a gymnastics practice area
Meghan helps a gymnast onto the uneven bars during a practice on Jan. 7. <br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO BY KRISTA SHEEHAN
Meghan helps a gymnast onto the uneven bars during a practice on Jan. 7. <br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO BY KRISTA SHEEHAN

ROCKLAND, Wis. - Most pole sheds on dairy farms are used for storing equipment or other farm-related objects. The Arentz family's, pole shed, which sits right next to their dairy barn, has nothing to do with the farm.
"I think my dad hoped he could one day put farm stuff in here, but we filled it up with gymnastics equipment, so it didn't quite pan out for him," Meghan said with a laugh.
The Arentz family built a pole shed as a place to practice gymnastics. Their gym, AMKM Gymnastics, is located on the family's dairy farm where they milk 36 cows near Rockland, Wis.
Terry and Susan's four daughters, Amanda Langrher (26), Meghan (24), Kelsey Giraud (22) and Molly (17) have been very active in the sport. When they first started, Susan would drive her daughters five nights a week for practice in La Crosse - about a 40-minute drive one way.
"We had an opportunity to buy (gymnastics) equipment from a nearby school that was quitting their program. We thought it (a gym on the farm) would be a nice place where they could practice on their own here instead of driving all the way to La Crosse," Susan said.
They built a 60-by 90-foot shed in the summer of 2005. When other area gymnasts asked if they could also practice in their space, the Arentzes decided to make it into their own club program. They opened the facility to classes in the fall of 2005.
"For kids in the area, it's nice to have a gym so close," Meghan said.
Although the gym started with about five gymnasts, it has now grown to about 60 with all four sisters as the coaches.
"The last few years it's really exploded," Terry said.
The growth allowed the Arentzes to build a 24-foot addition to the shed this year for additional practice space. The gym now includes a tumble track with a landing mat, a 40-by 40-foot spring floor, a vault with a pit, a tumbling strip, a bar station and six balance beams - two high beams and four lower ones for training.
"It's fun to be able to walk out my door and into the gym to practice," said Molly, who is a Holmen High School senior and competes on the Westby High School gymnastics team.
At their gym, the Arentzes offer classes in the evenings Monday through Thursday along with one-hour private lessons when they are available. Most of their gymnasts range in age from 2 to 17; however, they recently started offering a ladies class for anyone 18 and older.
Other than the members of the ladies class, all gymnasts practice together.
"When you're younger, who are you supposed to look towards if you can't see older girls performing? How are you supposed to set your goals high if you don't know what to do?" Molly said, explaining the reasoning for all levels being together.
It also gives the gymnasts a chance to learn other skills.
"We really like to teach leadership. Older girls are paired with younger girls," Molly said.
Amanda added, "We don't want them just to learn the sport, we want them to learn the confidence and responsibility that goes with it."
The Arentz sisters said these are all skills they learned from gymnastics.
"It's a sport of dedication and that carries into my life now. I'm dedicated in everything I do, and I try my best at it," Kelsey said.
However, they also learned these skills by growing up on a dairy farm. All the siblings helped with chores - milking cows, feeding calves and bedding animals amongst other tasks. Since Molly is the only one still living at home, she helps on the farm everyday - milking in the morning before school and helping at night when she is not involved in gymnastics during the high school season.
"Living on a dairy farm, you have to go milk the cows. You have to get up in the morning and go to the barn. It's kind of the same in gymnastics. You have to go to practice and get stuff," Molly said.
"Dairy farming, like gymnastics, is a year round commitment. There's never a break, and you have to do it everyday," Kelsey said.
Time management is another skill all the sisters have learned from being on the farm and involved with sports.
"When you grow up on a dairy farm, you have to figure out how to get chores done and do everything else that you're expected to do - school, sports and other things - especially with six kids in our family," Amanda said.
It's a skill they still use today since Amanda, Meghan and Kelsey all have full-time jobs in addition to working at the gym.
In their younger years, the Arentzes two brothers, Tyler (21) and Alex (19) were involved in wrestling. When the schedule became hectic, everyone would step in to do their part.
"When someone didn't have an activity at night and others did, they knew they had to do the chores. Everyone pitched in," Terry said.
Even though the family is older, they still help each other. With the most recent addition to the gym, the Arentzes brothers helped with the construction.
"They are so supportive and always there for us. They do a lot of the behind the scenes work," Meghan said.
Sometimes having the gym can create a few minor challenges for the Arentzes.
"Sometimes it hard getting people to realize it's on a working farm. We remind people to slow down in the driveway because there might be tractors going through or farm machinery out like the elevator for hay," Amanda said.
The Arentzes have also sometimes had to rearrange their schedules because of farm duties.
"Sometimes things like summer camps and baling hay will be at the same time, but it works," Amanda said. "We have a big family, which helps us adjust when needed."
The fun aspects of having a gym far outweigh the challenges for the Arentz family.
"It's fun watching the girls set their goals, and achieve success with those goals," Meghan said.
The walls of the gym lined with trophies and plaques from years past are a visual for the success of the gymnasts and their club, which a part of the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU).
"I like being able to share everything I've done in the gym with others," Kelsey said. "It's great being able to connect with the girls and know exactly what they're going through."
For Amanda, the experience has been a great opportunity to spend time together as a family.
"Me and my sisters are so close in age, so we grew up doing the sport together. After high school and competing, this is a way for us to keep doing what we love. We put a lot of time and our hearts into this program" she said.
It's also their way to share with others and give back to the gymnastics sport, with their family roots of the dairy farm just a step outside the gym door.
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