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From Couture to Sivret, the Jungle Gym hand-off is complete
2021-02-16

In football vernacular, the hand-off is commonplace.

In the world of gymnastics, not so much.

Anne-Marie Couture and Zak Sivret are hoping few will object to them borrowing upon gridiron terminology, such is the timeliness and convenience of the transition that is currently taking place at the Jungle Gym.

Just over twenty years from the date that she first brought her vision to life, initially in Azilda and more recently in the expansive facility that sits just off Armstrong Street, Couture has opted to step away from the day to day running of the business.

In her stead steps the 28 year-old bonafide energizer bunny, with but one official gymnastics session to his credit as an athlete, but having immersed himself both as a coach and an entrepreneur since his graduation from college.

“I was in martial arts for a really long time, that was kind of my base thing,” said Sivret, who has spent the past few years coaching/personal training and helping to operate LVX Studios. “When I was young, my mom owned a dance studio, and I was always fascinated with gymnastics, because it was kind of this really cool in between.”

“Dance, martial arts and gymnastics had so many similarities, but with different elements. At the base of it all was fundamental movements and I always felt that these were better developed in activities like gymnastics, martial arts and dance.”

The landscape of physical activity options that Sivret will tackle is a vastly different one than the one which first greeted Couture back around the turn of the millenium, not all that far removed, at that time, from her own days as a competitive gymnast, struggling to find enough coaching hours in the sport to make it a full-time career.

“I’m super proud of the story that has developed with Jungle Gym,” said the mother of two. “We started in a really tiny facility with a square footage of about two thousand square feet, which included the viewing area and two trampolines. There was no room for a vault or a runway. We outgrew that facility within six to seven years, and that’s when we decided to build in Sudbury.”

While gymnastics may have been the seed that was initially planted, the evolving business acumen that Couture would garner, over the years, with some guidance and support from her husband (Frank) would see this tree sprout a variety of different foliages. “Initially, I was so in love with coaching the newbies who came into the gym, teaching the simple skills that turned into some pretty cool skills,” she recalled.

“Just to see the look of sheer amazement on their faces when they could actually pick something up, learn it and do it well.”

Though Sivret would initially cross paths with Anne-Marie and family in local baseball circles, it was a post-secondary contact that would reunite the two in a most unexpected way.

“I am good friends with a girl who was a head coach at Jungle Gym,” stated Sivret. “We would come to the gym to do homework together, which quickly transformed to coming over so that she could do homework and I could use the trampolines.”

The switch to coaching, as a side hobby to the personal training that he was already instructing, seemed only natural. “I think I did one day with the after school kids and I was like, “sign me up, I’m ready to go”,” said Sivret.

“With Zak’s background, he definitely has the education to understand how your body moves, but he also has this incredible intuition about what you need to do in order to allow your body to move in a different way,” said Couture. “In gymnastics, every athlete has a different challenge. Not everyone has the same strengths in the same body parts, or the same flexibility.”

“He can develop a connection with the athletes so quickly - he’s the package deal,” she added.

Truth be told, there was likely a bit of a “going with his gut” approach that Sivret embraced as he began the process of truly understanding his role as a gymnastics coach. “It was an easier transition for me, coaching gymnastics, when I stopped looking at it as gymnastics and just looked at it as movements, patterns of movements,” he said.

“That is still the approach that I have. Once you understand how your body twists or how it rotates, it’s the same for anything where you are twisting or rotating. When it comes to setting a foundation for any type of sport, gymnastics is still king. It can be applied to anything.”

While Couture had contemplated an exit plan for perhaps the last year or two, the earnest discussions with Sivret did not commence until this past fall. By then, the original owner had forged at least something of a very general game plan.

“I mean we could have completely dismantled it and sold everything off, but I didn’t like that, because I am proud of what I’ve created,” she said.

For as much as the transition has begun, as much as it can in the midst of a pandemic, this is hardly a cold turkey hard and fast separation from existing ownership to new management.

“I had some thoughts on things that are important through the transition phase - but I will always add that if he needs me to back off, you just let me know. So far, he hasn’t asked me to back off, but I’m waiting for that day to come,” Couture added with a laugh. “I will be here as long as he needs me.”

Like many similar situations, some things will change, others will remain unchanged.

“When Andre (Senechal) and I bought LVX, I told him that the end goal was to have a multi-disciplinary movement studio, anything and everything that I could get into a single facility,” said Sivret. “This place (Jungle Gym) has always been the gold standard for me.”

“My main messaging to people is that if there are some new programs coming on board, they are not coming to replace anything that the gym has already built up. The foundation of this place is already a massive part of the community. I’m not taking any of that stuff away. Anything that we bring in is meant to add to what we already offer.”

In the end, there is something of an organic feeling to this next chapter of the Jungle Gym story, a sense that things are happening exactly as should be.

“My main reason for not wanting to be a business owner anymore is that I’ve given the best of myself to other people’s children for 20 years,” said Couture. “I only have a small amount of time left to be with my children - I feel lucky with the timing of this. I just don’t think that I can be as whole-heartedly in the game as someone like Zak, who is 20 years younger and has all the energy in the world.”

“Jungle Gym started from nothing but a dream and a lot of hard work,” she continued. “With Zak at the helm, it will continue to evolve and grow even more.”

“The timing was kind of perfect, because everyone was ready to go to that next phase of their lives,” said Sivret. “It worked out perfectly.”

In fact, you could say that it worked out exactly as a well-planned hand off should - regardless of the sport.

Northern Ontario AAA Hockey League