Most children who are involved in competitive gymnastics spend the better part of their waking lives at the gym, often training twice a day, nearly every day of the week, in order to achieve success.
But a group of young girls from the East End have found a way to excel in the demanding sport while having fun and maintaining a “normal” life at the same time.
Four girls—Hannah Stein, 10, of Southampton; Haley Pisciotta, 10, of Westhampton Beach; Mieko Vail, 10, of Riverhead; and Marissa Evans, 11, of Riverhead—all recently qualified for the United States Association of Independent Gymnastics Clubs New York State Meet, which will take place at the New Image Gym in Edgewood on Saturday and Sunday.
The four gymnasts qualified based on performances at a meet at Gym Plus in Commack last weekend.
Hannah placed second in the all-around with a score of 35.25; was first in the floor routine with a score of 9.45; took third on the balance beam, scoring 9.25; was fifth on bars with a score of 8.45; and was fifth in vault with a score of 8.1.
Vail had a score of 35.20 in the all-around, 9.4 on the beam, 9.0 on the floor, 8.1 in vault, and 8.7 on bars, while Pisciotta had a score of 32.55 in the all-around, 8.0 on the beam, 8.55 in floor, 8.3 in vault, and 8.0 on bars. Evans had a score of 89.2 on the vault and 8.55 on floor.
They stood out from the other competitors and qualifiers, however, because they’ve made it happen with a much less rigorous training schedule, one managed by the coaching staff at Riverside Gymnastics in Riverhead.
According to Riverside coach Bonnie Tellez, the four girls and several other members of the gymnastics club participate in a program where they are required to spend an average of just six hours per week training, which is roughly half the amount of time most other young competitive gymnasts spend honing their skills.
“Riverside came up with this program to help them progress to a certain level without having to give up all their other sports and activities,” Tellez explained. “Gymnastics is a great foundation for other sports, but sometimes you have to train so much that you can’t participate in other sports. We’re really trying to let these kids have normal childhood lives.”
Tellez said that some of her students begin to increase the amount of time they spend training once they start to see success and become more invested in the sport, but for students who are just getting their feet wet in competition, the modified program is a great way to ease into it.
Stein, who started gymnastics three years ago, is a prime example, according to her mother Danielle Stein.
“She always yells at me that I didn’t start her young enough to make it to the Olympics,” Mrs. Stein said with a laugh. “But this is totally driven by her. I’d be just as happy if she were doing something else. When she wants to do something, she sets her mind to it, and she’s very disciplined that way.”
Tellez said that the discipline shown by the young athletes in the program is a big part of what has made them successful in such a short period of time and with fewer hours logged on the mats, beams and bars.
“We pick the kids by how well they take verbal correction and by how much they love the sport,” Tellez said. “All these kids came to us from summer camps—they weren’t looking for competition. They just wanted to do gymnastics all day long. But those are the kids that I find work the hardest during those six hours, so you don’t have to have them here for 12 to 16 hours each week.”
Casey Gilbride of Sag Harbor is another success story from the program. She competed in a level-8 state meet and took third place on the balance beam—but she also can be found competing in lacrosse, volleyball and other more orthodox sports that are enjoyed by her peers.
“It’s such a hard sport and sometimes kids train their entire lives and they can’t do anything else,” Tellez said. “If you want to be at that elite level, then eventually you will have to train at that same level, but these guys are out there to have a good time, and winning is just a bonus.”
Tellez admitted that she was pleasantly surprised that all four girls qualified for the level-6 state meet.
“We weren’t looking for that; we were just going to have fun,” Tellez said. “But after it was over, I told the other coaches, ‘We have another meet to go to this season.’”