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Gymnastic's biggest fan

Bob Kinlund Trisha Marczak/For the FOCUS

While Bob Kinlund is known around the gymnastics community as a true fan and supporter, it wasn't always that way.

In a sense, he tumbled into his role.

Having always been the one to take part in civic involvement, Kinlund was asked to help out with a 1980s youth program, sponsored by Kenny Nelson and Barrel O' Fun, known as "The Barrel O' Fun Chipettes."

While the Chipettes weren't exactly gymnasts, they carried many of the same traits. Girls, ranging from 13 to 14 years old, dressed in police-type uniforms and put on aerobatic-like performances in parades and town festivals throughout the region - for 10 years.

"One year, we did 60 parades," Kinlund said with a laugh. "We had five parades in one day."

Performances ran from Montana to Chicago. They were a hit. Despite the fame and fun that came with the gig, Kinlund said what he really enjoyed most was working with the girls, all whose level of dedication shocked and inspired him.

"That 10 to 12 years was probably the most rewarding time of my life," he said.

It's that same level of commitment he sees in Perham's gymnasts today.

"They're a tough bunch of girls," he said.

After the Chipettes disbanded, Kinlund became involved in the Chamber of Commerce's similar team. When it dissolved altogether, he found himself wrapped up in the world of his granddaughter's gymnastics sport.

During that time, Perham didn't have a varsity program. Instead, girls would travel to neighboring communities - and that was only 12 to 14 years ago.

Kinlund became involved in fundraising for the team, as it didn't receive school funds. He slipped into the role of bookkeeper, thanks to his accounting background, and the rest is history. He never really left.

Kinlund said he's seen so many positive attributes throughout the program. He's seen community and business leaders step up to make Perham gymnastics what it is today: an acclaimed program throughout the state.

He's also seen a coach work wonders with a dedicated group of girls - year after year.

In Kinlund's mind, Charlie Fleck is the man. He's watched Fleck light a fire inside girls, one he knows how to keep glowing until bursting into a state championship flame.

"He lights a fire under them that just won't go out," he said.

Kinlund said it's a desire to learn and perfect that girls carry throughout their whole lives, applying the lesson in many different scenarios.

"He coaches the best out of people," he said.

Apparently so. Perham is known for its eight straight gymnastics championships - a Minnesota State High School League record.

Recently, Kinlund took up photography. Considering he knows the sport well, he's been able to capture images of girls at all the right moments. While he's not always able to make it to every meet, he never misses the opportunity to listen - or watch - when he can.

He hangs on for those moments when the hours and hours of practice he sees pays off. He's watched girls work through broken toes, fingers and other injuries until their hands raise in a performance-ending pose.

He's seen it all - and he's hooked. No matter where a Perham gymnast goes, they know they have one pretty big fan in Kinlund.