A balancing act

Steamboat gymnasts have a good time in often-criticized sport

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— A short while ago, the youths from the Steamboat Springs Gymnastics Center had a tough time winning anything. Now, it's becoming harder and harder to keep the kids off the podium.

Saturday, Steamboat hosted its first-ever meet, and the girls competing in the Level 5 division captured the team title, took four of the top six spots in the all-around and had one individual place first on every apparatus balance beam, floor, vault and uneven bars.

Nine-year-old Genna Bradley even won the handstand contest held just for fun at the end of the meet.

The reason behind the success is clear, gymnastics mother Marie Winter said.

Her daughter Jamie, 10, is on the team, and Marie said the improvements the entire squad has made under new head coach Deirdre Bernard are remarkable.

"She is the best coach," said Winter. "She's strict, but the girls like her."

Bernard concedes to the strict part, but her intense conditioning plan and attention to detail benefits the girls and boys she coaches in the long run.

"I love gymnastics," Bernard said. "I truly love it, but my love for it is what keeps the kids here."

The stories about youths and gymnastics aren't new. The toll it takes emotionally, physically and financially on both the athletes and parents often drives kids out of the sport at an early age. Unlike many of the athletes in Steamboat, those seriously committed to gymnastics will only be able to stay in that particular sport if they want to improve and be successful.

The girls that competed on Saturday train three days a week for nearly three hours. During training for official United States Gymnastics Association meets, they are in the gym for a fourth day as well.

Tape around ankles and wrists indicates the toil the constant tumbling and dismounting is taking on several of the kids, but the smiles and laughter are telling another story.

They are having fun.

The eight girls that competed in the Level 5 competition Saturday all started for different reasons. Brianna Shaffer, 12, said she was put in the gymnastics the day she flipped off the couch for the first time.

Chelsea Mosser, 12, said she had an older brother involved in the club so she got involved, too. Katie Birch, 12, and her friends did everything together, including gymnastics.

The other five: Maggie Faulkner, 11; Athena Fowler, 12; Jena Pruett, 10; Bradley and Winter will tell different stories, too, if you have a second.

Their attention span isn't a lot longer, which is understandable considering energy flows through every vein in their bodies.

Bernard's job, along with the other coaches that work at the Gymnastics Center, is to channel the youthful exuberance into polished, poised performances.

It's obvious Bernard's background qualifiers her for the position. She's the former head coach at the University of Texas and a former private club coach in the Lone Star State.

However, there's a wealth of star potential in the group she has right now. All eight are relatively new to the competitive team side of gymnastics but quickly learning how to look the part from head to pointed toe.

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