PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Americans love their Olympic gymnasts. We watch them do amazing feats on the world stage at such a young age as if they are superhuman.
But, did you know we have girls right here in our area who are training to be the next Olympians?
Three days a week, 17 girls arrive at X-Cel Gymnastics in Cranberry at 6:30 a.m. to start training. The youngest of them, starting at age 9, are preparing to make it to the top of their sport.
Coach Lindsey Stancil, who owns X-Cel, says by starting young, they’re developing specific muscles to help prevent injury.
“Most kids who have broached that Olympic barrier started training when they were 5,” Stancil says.
Serious training begins by age 9. Among the Olympic hopefuls are 10- and 11-year-old gymnasts Johnna Mullen, Mya North, Alyse Karenbauer and Harlyn Tomlin, the daughter of Mike and Kiya Tomlin.
“I like all the flipping and all the cool stuff I get to try and do,” Harlyn Tomlin says.
“They push you,” says Mullen. “They know your limits, but they push you to your limits. It’s fun. It’s challenging. I like challenging.”
Their training schedule is rigorous. The girls are practicing at the gym from 6:30 to 9:30 in the morning and 2:30 to 5:30 in the afternoon, three days a week, plus time on Saturdays and Sundays.
They start with a warm up and then move to conditioning, building strength in their core, arms, legs and back. After that, they work on specific skills, advancing from the basics.
“For example, on (the balance beam) today, the children probably did 10 different skills, so I need the kids to do 10 to 15 repetitions of each of the things we did today,” Stancil says.
The kids are constantly getting corrections and trying again. Stancil says attitude is what separates a girl who loves gymnastics from one who’s ready to train at this elite level.
“It’s mental. It’s all mental preparation,” she says, “and it’s their desire to receive correction. The elite athlete interprets correction in a very positive way.”
After the girls finish their practice in the morning, then they start their schooling. Some will go to a traditional school with an adaptive schedule so they can get to school late and leave school early for more time in the gym. Others will stay at the gym for cyber school.
Karenbauer and Tomlin are some of the few who stay at the gym in a separate room for online school until afternoon practice.
Karenbauer says the hardest part of that is, “I’m so tempted to just go downstairs and start flipping around.”
It’s a balancing act for the kids and for the parents too.
“It’s a lot of driving, a lot of planning, to make sure the rest of the family is running smoothly around her schedule,” Kiya Tomlin says.
The parents and kids say, it’s all worth it.
“She’s learned lots and lots of discipline. She’s very organized,” Mya’s mom, Pam North, said.
“She really loves it, so that’s what drives this whole thing,” Antoine Jordan said about his 9-year-old daughter, Olivia.
“As long as she does something she loves, I think it keeps her busy, teaches time management and priorities and focus,” Tomlin added.
It’s a big commitment for little girls with big dreams. When asked whether the girls felt like they were missing out on anything by being at the gym so much, each one said something much like what Mya North said.
“I’d rather be in the gym than doing that stuff.”
The long-term goal for these girls is to make it onto the Olympic gymnastics team. To get there, they’re competing at national gymnastics competitions and advancing in levels.
Gymnasts at X-Cel Gymnastics have won national competitions in the Junior Olympic and Elite programs. Coach Stancil says it’s up to the child to decide how far they want to take their training.
As for the parents, most say the Olympics would be incredible, but they’d just be thrilled with a college scholarship.