Tim Cleave. You probably don’t know him by name, but if you grew up in New West, have kids here, or have taken gymnastics here at all, you’ve probably gotten to know Tim’s unique brand of endless enthusiasm. This 38-year veteran staffer for the City of New West is usually at the Arenex, and Tenth got the chance to sit down with him for some one-on- one time between classes. Photos by Mario Bartel.
Tenth: What brought you here to work for the City of New West?
Tim: Val in the office [he’s referring to Val Johnson, a recreation programmer for the city of New West], started the Shasta Trampoline team in 1975 at the community centre in New West. I had started trampolining in 1972, and then in 1975 Val started a program and in ’78, I was here all the time anyway, so I figured I should get a job here! I like gymnastics and trampoline and I was a high-level athlete, so a job like this afforded me the time to leave work and travel for competitions internationally.
It just fit and I love the job. It just keeps getting better and I don’t know how that’s possible. There are days when I don’t feel like working – everyone has those – but in general, it just keeps getting better. The kids get more fun, and I keep learning.
Tenth: Tell me about your own athletic background.
Tim: Right from the get-go Shasta Trampoline had some of the best trampolinists in the country and I was competing internationally from ‘78-‘86. I went to the World Championships four times and competed all over the world in trampoline. Many of the people that I was travelling with were also instructors in the program. When I started there were two instructors – Val and myself – and we had 65-some-odd kids per week.
And as the team grew and people got interested, and the rec program grew as well, it was a natural fit for other trampolinists to become instructors in the program. So we had a big family of people that taught gymnastics and travelled around the world together.
I stopped competing in ’86, and then right away I was a coach for the Shasta Trampoline team until the mid-nineties. Shasta still exists –they are the oldest club in the country–and for those years from ‘75 to around ‘85-‘86 they were the top team in the country. Most national champions came from Shasta. We were a tight group. The competitive thing was huge in my life and the job was loosely connected to that. Val still supervises the program, I’m the head instructor, and so we’ve been working together for my whole career.
Tenth: Tell me about the program that is currently offered here at the Arenex.
Tim: We now have around 40 instructors, and probably 1,200 participants registered in the program, not including the drop-ins. So when you include those I am sure we are well over 2,000 a week that come through our program. The ages range from zero right up to adults. It’s all non-competitive.
We’re just here to learn gymnastics, have fun, and so if you look at the participants in our program and the athletes in a competitive gym, there is a vast difference in the skill level, but these kids are coming for an hour a week instead of 20 hours a week. It’s about fun, learning, and safety. It is a huge program, and we’ve offered gymnastics, trampoline, and circus programs over the years. We did some skipping programs, too.
We just focus on having a good time at the gym. Play and learn, and be safe and go home with a smile. If you can get kids to go home with a smile and they’ve enjoyed themselves and they want to come back – that’s the first big success.
When I was in my first 10 years of working here, trying to fill in my hours, trying to get enough money to live, I used to teach the Hot Shot Tot sports programs all over the city, and I taught gymnastics all over in the schools, and I used to change the sign – you know, the readerboard at the corner of Queen’s Park? It used to have plastic letters and I’d change that twice a week.
I was the nighttime janitor at Century House for a summer, park leader for a summer, I supervised badminton for a few weeks one summer… I have kind of done everything that has needed to be done. Especially in the first 10 or 15 years because I was part-time and I was living here in New West away from my family and needed to eat. Anything they had, I took it.
Tenth: Why trampolining and gymnastics? What brought you into this sport?
Tim: My sisters! They wanted to do gymnastics as kids and I was a tag-along, the snivelly little brother that tagged along. I got to participate in a program in Coquitlam. The coach one day lined us all up and he said “You step forward, you step back, forward, back, forward, back…” all the way along the line, and my sisters both stepped forward and I was told to step back. And he said, “all of you in the back of the line – you’re done. Go home.” And I don’t think I cared much about the gymnastics but I cared about the insult of not being picked. So I went to my dad and told him I wanted to do gymnastics and so he went on a hunt and took my sisters out of that program because of the way that went down, and we found the club that was at the community centre at the time and one of my sisters and I joined, and as the years went by another sister and a brother joined as well. They liked it but left it, but I stuck with it. And then somewhere in those first couple of years I discovered I rather liked being upside down and flipping and flying and tumbling.
When I was competing there were a lot of people that would discover I was a trampolinist, and they’d say, “You mean gymnastics?” and I’d say, “Well, sort of, but it’s trampoline.” People just didn’t know it was a sport. It wasn’t a huge deal then, not until it started in the Olympics in 2000. Now, more people know.
It’s very amazing to watch. Being in the air and moving while you are in the air and trying to control yourself – you don’t have anything to push against. So the takeoff has to be good and then what you do in the air will affect everything that will happen to you. It’s really involved.
Tenth: Has it opened any doors for you?
Tim: Well, I’m still working here, 38 years later! And I competed all over the world and have travelled everywhere. Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Asia… gosh, everywhere! Back until the mid-nineties, it was all trampoline travel, and now in my current life I travel with my spouse and we go to Malaysia every year as his family is all there. We go there for a month and branch out and do some side trips. There’s always lots of stuff we discover we haven’t done yet.
Tenth: What’s the best part of your job?
Tim: The kids! Every single kid that comes through that door has their own sense of being, and it doesn’t matter if they have challenges or not, they all have their own personality. There are ways to be able to get in and find a way to just… get into their heads and be a part of their success. It’s not even when I get a child that walks in that has big challenges and I have success – that’s not any better than the average Joe that walks into the room and I have success. They are all so different. It’s when I see a kid smile because they just learned something new and, “Hey Mom, watch!” – that just rocks.
Every week I have an adult come in and say “hi” that was a kid here, especially in the Motoring Munchkins program. People will come up and say, “Are you Tim? I remember you 20, 30 years ago,” and I’m getting close to teaching the grandchildren of the people I’ve already taught. They are always kind and say I look the same – which there’s no chance of that – but it’s neat.
Every once in a while someone will bring in a photo album with pictures. Last year, someone gave me a Christmas card and it was a photo split in half. On one side was a photo of me helping her on the balance beam when she was six, and on the other side, her daughter doing the same skill on the balance beam two years ago. That was cool.
Tenth: Do you have any advice for parents to get their kids more active?
Tim: Whatever your kid is doing, make sure they are having fun. If it’s fun – it doesn’t matter if they are doing it right – if it is fun and it’s safe, then it doesn’t matter if it’s right. Let them have a good time. If they enjoy it, they’ll want to come back. As long as it’s safe and no one is at risk, then why not? Why can’t they go up the slide? Or walk on the balance beam backwards, or whatever?
Movement can be as creative as you can make it. There’s a lot less pressure about winning in a non-competitive program – you don’t have to worry about winning as you learn a new skill. It’s success. Some of the kids the success is that they walked two steps on a balance beam, some of them just learned their first double flip. But there is success all the way along the way, from when you walk in the door until you decide to become a competitive athlete, and there’s no pressure to win. The kids will still feel peer pressure of wanting to be as good as the kids around them, and I don’t know how to stop that, but as long as they can stay focused on their own success then they are feeling success all the time.
I cannot imagine that there is anybody aside from Val and I who likes his or her job as much as I do. I’m lucky, that’s what I am. I’m lucky.