A boy leaped at the chance to lie down on the center of a colorful parachute.

His friends held onto the edge of the parachute, making waves to "cool him off."

Kids, ages 7 to 12, laughed as they vigorously moved their arms up and down to fan their friend.

It was just one of numerous activities enjoyed last week by the young members of ThunderFitness, a new kids' gym in York Township.

The brainchild of owner Cathy Ankey, the gym at 2808 East Prospect Road mixes play with fitness.

"They think they're playing a game, and they're actually learning motor skills," she said.

Ankey, 45, draws on decades of physical fitness education and work as a personal trainer to structure gym time around fun and exercise.

Cathy Ankeny, owner of Thunderfitness, explains how to move the tire through an obstacle course while Carson Martin works his way around an obstacle
Cathy Ankeny, owner of Thunderfitness, explains how to move the tire through an obstacle course while Carson Martin works his way around an obstacle course. (Randy Flaum)

"There's very little standing around," she said.

Children who arrive at the gym may spend class time weaving through an obstacle course, learning to rock climb, practicing soccer, football and basketball skills, doing step aerobics and other activities.

"The kids absolutely love it," said Leah Muller, whose daughters Danielle, 9, and Samantha, 7, attend the gym.

Muller, a York Township mother of three, registered her daughters when the gym opened a month ago.

Both girls previously participated in competitive gymnastics, but ThunderFitness gives them a different outlet for exercise.

"It's just fun. There's no pressure or judging involved," Muller said.

Being themselves: ThunderFitness is a place where kids can simply be themselves, Ankey said.

Activities at the gym include those that benefit children on the autism spectrum or have other developmental disorders.

"Everyone in life has felt left out or different at some point. For children with disabilities, they can feel like that every day. This is a place where they always fit in and are included," she said.

It's also a place where children don't need to be athletically inclined or have a history in organized sports.

Ankey first got the idea for the gym five years ago when she was watching her then-5-year-old son picking grass on the soccer field.

"He never wanted structured athletics. He just wanted a place to go and play," she said.

Now, five years later, that's what her 10-year-old son, Garret, has.

He's at the gym every night, "taking new members under his wing," Ankey said.

One of those new members is 8-year-old Carter Landis, who joined ThunderFitness last week.

"This is exactly what he needed," said his father Matt Landis. "He's not into organized sports. This keeps him engaged and gives him the interaction and exercise he needs."

The cost: A monthly membership costs $75 per child. Siblings get a $10 discount. For that price, members can take two one-hour classes each night and a two-hour fitness party on Saturdays.

If members take all the classes they're eligible for, it works out to less than $2 per class, Ankey said.

In addition to the classes Ankey said she's also adding special programming for the kids, such as bringing in a mixed martial arts fighter to teach skills, a kids' yoga program, and Deb Bixler, a health and wellness educator.

"There are plenty of statistics that show our children are obese and spend too much time in front of screens," Ankey said. "I decided to do something about it and make it fun."

-- Candy Woodall can also be reached at cwoo dall@yorkdispatch.com.