Band of brothers

Broth­erly love: Fox Chase res­id­ents and broth­ers Nikolas (front) and Xavi­er Cruz fin­ished first in the state cham­pi­on­ships at the Le­high Val­ley Sports Academy in Al­lentown on March 16. They are shown here train­ing at the Ben­s­alem Gym­nastics Club. MELISSA

To say Hur­ricane Sandy de­livered a knock­out blow to the Ben­s­alem Gym­nastics Club might be an over­state­ment, but the storm cer­tainly staggered it.

Sandy didn’t blow the house down, but the roof was torn clear off and the floor was flooded.

Since then, the club has got­ten off the mat and pro­duced three cham­pi­ons.

The night of Oct. 29 was a rough one for the build­ing on Bridge­wa­ter Road in Ben­s­alem Town­ship, ac­cord­ing to club dir­ect­or Tony Valdez.

“The day after, I looked in­to the front win­dow and there was wa­ter in­side. I didn’t want to go in there,” he said. “The whole roof was blown off and the whole front was des­troyed.”

What happened after that was a slow and steady build­ing pro­cess. The club even­tu­ally got around to put­ting the roof on and get­ting on to the busi­ness of both fa­cil­it­at­ing and cel­eb­rat­ing the achieve­ments of young people.

The roof was re­placed in Janu­ary but it wasn’t un­til March 16 that the club had something big to cel­eb­rate as the Cruz broth­ers, Xavi­er and Nikolas, fin­ished first in the state cham­pi­on­ships at the Le­high Val­ley Sports Academy in Al­lentown.

Xavi­er won in the 11-to-12-year-old level 4 cat­egory, while Nikolas, won in the in 8-year-old age group.

The club also had a win­ner in the 7-year-old level 4 com­pet­i­tion, Rylee Haer, who won in the un­even bars.

Not bad for a club that was closed from Oct. 30 un­til the middle of Janu­ary.

“We had to go to an­oth­er gym and prac­tice,” said Tina Cruz, the moth­er of the Cruz boys and a chem­istry teach­er at Cal­vary Chris­ti­an High School in North­east Phil­adelphia. “We had to wait for the rugs and everything and he (Valdez) had to re­build the floors.

“We went to the Amer­ic­an Gym in Mont­gomeryville and one of the coaches came along every day with us,” she said.

The coach­ing must have been a crash course be­cause both of the Cruz boys, from Fox Chase, nev­er com­peted in gym­nastics un­til Septem­ber.

“I would like to say it’s good coach­ing, but they had good tal­ent, too,” said Nate Camp­bell, one of the two coaches. “From the first day they came in, you could see that they had plenty of abil­ity.

“You’ve got to be a good ath­lete to do this and they both had good ath­let­ic in­stincts from the be­gin­ning.”

From there, it was all work, in­ter­rup­ted by a once-in-a-life­time storm.

“It’s about three days a week, nine hours, for that level,” Camp­bell said. “One of our oth­er coaches, Dylan Henry, would go with them to the oth­er gym un­til our gym was ready and then they’d come back to our gym to get ready for the states.

“Once you get up to the high­er levels, it’s much more of a time in­vest­ment. I would say as they get closer to the high school level, it’s go­ing to be pretty much of an every-day time in­vest­ment.”

Both the Cruz boys were entered in the all-around com­pet­i­tion where they had to com­pete in all six events — vault, rings, high bar, par­al­lel bars, floor and pom­mel horse. Scores are ad­ded up for all of those events, with the top three get­ting medals.

Since the Cruz boys earned first place, they brought home the gold.

They had ex­tra in­cent­ive this year, ac­cord­ing to their moth­er.

“They wanted to win it for [Valdez],” she said. “They wanted to win it for him. He’s been through a lot with the roof com­ing off and the club closed for six weeks. Yet, he saw something in them and they wanted to prove to him that they were good enough, and they were. I’m one proud Momma.”

Valdez is proud of the boys, too.

“They stayed with us, but some of the oth­ers went onto oth­er coaches, so what they did made us pretty proud,” he said. “When they fin­ished first, I cried.”

Valdez is the dir­ect­or of the club, but rents the build­ing.

“After I looked in the win­dow and didn’t want to go in, I walked to the far side,” Valdez said. “All of the (roof) ma­ter­i­al was there on the ground. The wind blew it the oth­er way.

“I talked to the mail­man and he said none of the oth­er build­ings suffered as much dam­age as ours. It’s been a long three months to put it back to­geth­er.

“We lost about half of our stu­dents. We had more than 200 in the Ben­s­alem Gym­nastics Club and we went down to about 100, and now it’s about 130. We got a lot of new stu­dents from the time we put the roof back, but we want to build it up back to where it was.”

Valdez could have ad­ded both with build­ing ma­ter­i­al and hu­man re­sources.

“The roof is back on and it looks beau­ti­ful,” Valdez said.

As far as the Cruz broth­ers go, there is no ceil­ing on their po­ten­tial, ac­cord­ing to Camp­bell.

“They could prob­ably go all the way through col­lege if they put the time in,” he said. ••

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