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Flipping Out for 75 Years

Gymkana Troupe Has Taken a Healthy Message to New Heights

By Annie Krakower

Collage of archival Gymkana images

Photos courtesy of University Archives

Gymkana, UMD’s gymnastics and acrobatics troupe that encourages healthy lifestyles as School of Public Health ambassadors, is celebrating its 75th anniversary this season.

For three-quarters of a century, Gymkana has jumped through hoops—and balanced on beams, twirled on ladders and leapt through fire—to share its message.

The team of tumbling Terps, formed in 1946 to promote gymnastics and acrobatics, has performed hundreds of soaring shows for UMD, the USO and even “America’s Got Talent.” But amid the synchronized spins and feats of flexibility, Gymkana’s mission has evolved: The group took an anti-drug stance in the ’80s, with members today, numbering around 50, encouraging overall healthy lifestyles as School of Public Health ambassadors.

“There’s the drug-free pledge … (but) skill or experience is not necessary (for members),” said Director and Head Coach Josh Montfort. “That’s one of the things we’ve always stood by. We’ll help teach you and train you and get you to the point where you’re ready to perform.” 

To honor its anniversary, we back-flipped into the past with University Archives and troupe leaders to show some of its high-flying highlights. Following COVID-caused cancelations of in-person performances and last summer’s popular youth day camps, members have raised over $38,000 so far during this month’s LaunchUMD crowdfunding campaign, which runs through March 1, and gymnasts past and present are planning to join together in April for a virtual show. Online training sessions are underway Monday through Friday to prepare, said Student President RJ Talamini-Kelemen ’21, including specific workshops for juggling, handstands, dance routines and more.

“Gymkana is an incredibly unique program that has a long legacy,” said Assistant Director and Coach Ben Prescott. “You’re still learning things, no matter what level you come in at.”

Gymkana members do handstands on top of a busGymkana members from the 1948 troupe do handstands on the roof of the bus that will take them to their “Carnival of Champions” performance at West Virginia University.

Gymkana member does scissors move on side horse1949 troupe member Gill Gaiser does a “scissors” move on the side horse.

Three Gymkana members perform balancing actCarolyn Cheek, George Kramer and Paul Simmer perform their mixed triples balancing act, “The Terrapins,” which members voted the Best Act Award winner in 1953. The award was renamed the Dr. Joseph F. Murray Best Act Award in 2011 to honor Gymkana’s former director.

Gymkana members perform on planeGymkana members bring the show on the road—and into the skies—as they balance in the aisle of a military transport plane in 1969.

Gymkana members perform on stilts on McKeldin MallPerformers, sporting their best ‘70s style, wow the crowd with a stilts routine on McKeldin Mall.

Gymkana members perform ladders actMembers form human stars during the ladder performance in Gymkana’s 50th Anniversary Home Show on campus in 1996. Home Shows typically cap each season, featuring the troupe’s acts for the UMD community.

One Gymkana member tosses anotherJohnny Manzari tosses a flipping Sandy Nguyen during a 1997 performance at Cole Field House.

Gymkana member leaps through hoop of fireA performer leaps headfirst through a hoop of fire during the 2003 Midnight Madness show, a pep rally-style event held to kick off the Terps’ basketball season.

Schools & Departments:

School of Public Health

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