One of the most venerable youth gymnastics organizations in Silicon Valley is in danger of becoming another statistic of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Santa Clara-based Twisters Sports Center has been around since 1967 and survived three relocations since 2014 due to skyrocketing commercial land prices. But the pandemic has been the greatest threat to its existence, proving to be an entirely different beast for businesses nationally and worldwide.
“This is the first time when we’ve looked at the numbers and said we’re not going to make it because of Covid,” Twisters owner Allan Fusilero told San Jose Inside. “In 53 years, no matter what, the business has been able to survive. We’re going to do our best to make sure it stays that way.”
To that end, Fusilero and his wife, Ericka, worked with friends to put together a crowdfunding campaign that launched earlier in the week and raised $19,600 in the first four days. That’s the good news.
A number of other things have to break right for Twisters—which also offers dance and tae kwon do—to survive.
Businesses that were depending on a new, second stimulus bill are getting pushed to the brink as federal unemployment aid runs out. In the first few months of the pandemic, Fusilero obtained a U.S. Small Business Administration PPP loan to keep the business afloat. However, those funds have been depleted.
“If we get that stimulus, we’re not going to do a phase 2 [crowdfunding project],” he said, “but if it doesn't happen, we’ll have to do something because I don't see any gym surviving at 25 percent occupancy for a year. That is not going to be sustainable for us in the long run because of the restrictions being put on us with occupancy capacity.”
At its peak, Twisters had an enrollment base of 1,100 members. Then the Larry Nassar—the former USA Gymnastics National team doctor who was convicted in 2018 for sexually abusing athletes—story broke, at which point participation in the sport nationally took a precipitous drop. Just before the pandemic arrived, Twisters still had 800 gymnasts as members, Fusilero said.
San Jose resident Melissa Abe knows first-hand the positive impact Twisters has had on her and countless others. Abe trained at Twisters while the facility was in Palo Alto, and her daughter, Ashleigh, who is a freshman at Cal Berkeley, trained for three years there starting in the sixth grade.
“It’s a very special community and Allan and Ericka [Allan’s wife] in particular are really special coaches,” Abe said. “They have such a great love and knowledge of the sport, but more importantly, they embrace the whole child. They see gymnastics as a stepping stone into adulthood and using the sport as a cornerstone to learn skills that will help you throughout a lifetime.”
At the local level, the Fusileros are gymnastics royalty. Allan was on the Cal Berkeley men’s team that won the NCAA championship in 1988 and Ericka is in the UC Davis Athletics Hall of Fame after a brilliant four-year career that concluded in 2002. Their 11-year-old daughter, Remi, is on the precipice of competing in the USA Gymnastics HOPES program, a precursor to the Elite Division, the highest level of competition.
Fusilero has been encouraged with the outpouring of support from the community, and he’s determined to keep on fighting to keep Twisters in business.
“I’m hopeful to keep this thing running,” he said. “Twisters has always been a place where kids choose their path, and that’s what we pride ourselves on. We never put kids in a position where they’re forced to choose one type of program, and that’s why we’ve been able to survive for so long.”
Those wanting to donate to Twisters can do so here.