In the 34 years since he founded the Gym Dandies Children’s Circus in Scarborough, Jon Cahill has made an indelible mark on generations of kids who will never forget their time with the unicycle troop.

But now, Cahill has decided it’s time to step down.

In a letter to Gym Dandies families, Cahill said making the choice to leave has been “one of the hardest things I ever had to get through.”

The letter added, “All of the children I have worked with have enriched my life beyond measure. It has been a privilege to be part of their lives.”

At 68, Cahill said his body is telling him it’s time to slow down.

“My knees are shot. (And) it is becoming abundantly clear to me that it is not healthy for me to keep up the pace I have been maintaining,” his letter said.

Gym Dandies teaches participants a variety of circus arts, including unicycle riding, juggling, globe walking and more, along with boosting self-confidence and teamwork skills.

This week Cahill said he is still formulating a plan for new leadership, but that all the current instructors plan to continue with the program, which is located at the Wentworth School.

Cahill said he will “still be around to consult and volunteer from time to time, but for the most part I am stepping down. Gym Dandies is my baby, but it is 34 years old now and definitely ready to survive on its own.”

What Cahill will miss the most, he said, are the practices.

“This is where the children learn to set goals, work to met those goals and experience success,” he said.

And although Cahill has guided the Gym Dandies to incredible heights, including participating in the presidential inaugural parade several years ago, he said the real success of the program comes from the skills and confidence participants develop.

“There is always something new and challenging to learn,” Cahill said. “At any given practice you will find children working on a variety of skills from unicycling and juggling to globe walking. When a child does something most adults can’t do, people notice (and) this is tremendously empowering and rewarding for a child.”

What Cahill is most proud of are “the thousands of Scarborough children who have been part of Gym Dandies. The children (are the ones who) have made the program what it is today.”

While Cahill is indisputably the face and force behind the Gym Dandies, which he founded in 1981, the program is “not a one-man show,” he said. “I have a number of great assistants who make an invaluable contribution to the success of the program.”

Scarborough state Rep. Heather Sirocki, former head of the Gym Dandies boosters organization, said this week that for most kids who grow up in town, “the question isn’t, ‘Were you ever in Gym Dandies?’ It is, ‘How long were you in Gym Dandies?’ It is that unusual to not have participated.

“Of all the many wonderful trips to recollect, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was truly a dream come true. What a feeling to see more than 50 of our Gym Dandies unicycling down Broadway to the cheers of 2.5 million people knowing that our local community was back home glued to their televisions cheering us on,” Sirocki said.

She also agreed with Cahill that the Gym Dandies “is about so much more than parades and performances. It is about teaching that persistence and hard work pay off. It is about learning how to get back up when you fall, smiling when your legs ache and knowing that performing brings joy. It is exhilarating to be a part of something (this) big.”

Sirocki added, “Jon Cahill has been the bedrock of this unique (program) for more than three decades. While it is difficult to imagine the program without him, I know there are many dedicated parents and involved community members who will be stepping up to the plate.”

Dina and Mike Derrick, whose children are past participants in the Gym Dandies, said in an email, “Our family is so grateful to have been part of the Gym Dandies and to have had the privilege of getting to know Mr. Cahill. He taught our kids so much about hard work and collaboration.”

The Derricks also said, “Mr. Cahill and the Gym Dandies will always be a part of some of our fondest memories as a family. He has done so much for all of us. A heartfelt thank you, Mr. Cahill, for being such a positive and formative presence in our lives.”

Bob Mitchell, a regular volunteer with the Gym Dandies, said this week that the thousands of kids who have participated in the program would be able to look back and say it made a positive difference in their lives.

He also called Cahill a great leader and teacher.

“Through his leadership, kids across the school system learned lifelong skills, such as determination, dedication, that hard work pays off, that working as a team pays off and a host of other great (lessons),” Mitchell said.

His daughter, Rebecca, who is now a junior in college, was in the Gym Dandies from third through 12th grade. What Mitchell most appreciates is that she not only learned a number of important skills, but that she also got many unique opportunities, including performing in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the national Fourth of July parade and more.

“The Gym Dandies gave (Rebecca) the opportunity to see various places and people all over the East Coast, which opened the door for her to explore the world outside of Maine,” Mitchell said.

He added, “The Gym Dandies (gave) her confidence that she could be successful wherever she goes, and it expanded her horizons. (And), finally the Gym Dandies has provided Rebecca and our family with some lifetime friends, along with the experiences of a lifetime.”

Maire Trombley, a fourth-grade teacher at Wentworth who joined the staff of the Gym Dandies, said what she’s most enjoyed is getting to know students “on a whole different level and seeing them become proud of themselves.”

She agreed with Mitchell that Cahill is a “a great leader” with an ability to “make the kids feel positive about whatever level of skill they’ve reached.”

Founder and longtime Gym Dandies director Jon Cahill with members of the troop. File photoMembers of the Gym Dandies learn how to ride unicycles, globe walk, juggle and more.Courtesy photo

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