Local area gymnasts sign to compete at Iowa

A noisy warehouse filled with hundreds of aspiring gymnasts learning the fundamentals of the sport is music to the ears of Lauren Guerin and Mackenzie Vance.

Once upon a time, the duo was just like many of those young girls and boys, eager to be able to flip, jump, leap and hop.

Little did the duo realize what they thought was just for fun could turn into something much more.

Earlier this month, Vance, a Hays High senior, and Guerin, a senior at an online school, signed their letters of intent to compete in gymnastics at the University of Iowa.

Buda residents Lauren Guerin (left) and Mackenzie Vance signed letters of intent to compete in gymnastics at the University of Iowa. (photo by Moses Leos III)

Dedication, along with the ability to persevere, helped the two reach their goals.

“I didn’t think I could get to this point. It’s exciting that I can be able to,” Guerin said. “It does take a lot of hard work.”

From an early age, both Guerin and Vance learned they had a love for the gym. Both athletes began taking part in the sport when they were three years old.

Jeff Beal, owner of Olympia Hills, which opened in 2003, and also a longtime gymnast, said gymnastics is a “good first sport” for children.

The sport teaches children balance, full body strength and confidence. The sport can also be a platform for other sports opportunities as well.

Beal said many gymnasts often participate in pole vault. Meagan Gray, who won the 2015 UIL Class 4A pole vault gold medal at Hays High and is a current University of Oklahoma pole vaulter, was once a gymnast at Olympia Hills.

“Kids who start with gymnastics in preschool have a huge advantage in any sport,” Beal said. “It gives them a big advantage.”

Vance, a native of Kansas, remembers getting into gymnastics, as her mother wanted her to become a cheerleader.

While she didn’t continue on that career path, the world of gymnastics was the only sport where Vance wanted “to be here every day and train and get better.”

“There’s never a boring moment. You’re always trying new things,” Vance said.

Guerin, who is from the Buda area and has trained at Olympia Hills, said she instantly love the sport. The reason was it allowed her to perform backflips and other tumbling maneuvers.

Eventually, the two continued through the ranks, learning new skills and improving their repertoire of exercises. Guerin, who has been in gymnastics for 14 years, said learning all of the skills necessary takes time and patience.

“It takes a lot of practice and a lot of trial and error to perfect a skill,” Guerin said.

Once they reached the age of seven, both Vance and Guerin began to take part in competitions. As a result, the two also began to take gymnastics much more seriously.

Vance said she trained 16 hours per week when she was younger, which involved learning the various skills needed for all four floor exercises.

Guerin said competing gymnasts must be able to perform in the vault, balance beam, floor exercise and uneven bars, and must be able to learn a routine to go along with each forms of the competition.

“I remember being really nervous in the first meet,” Vance said. “I don’t think I did too well, it was because I was really nervous. But after that, I figured it out.”

The two learned time management skills in the process as well. With a busy practice schedule, both Guerin and Vance had to learn how to fit in gymnastics to go along with ensuring they were completing their school work.

Beal said gymnasts who compete face a long road due to the amount of sacrifices they make. Being able to secure a scholarship in gymnastics is often the reward for students.

He said hundreds of students apply for only four or five scholarship opportunities at schools with a gymnastics program. As a result, universities are very selective and often choose athletes who are considered to be top in the nation.

“Kids can’t go on vacations, they just can’t to be competitive in gymnastics because it’s such a demanding sport,” Beal said. “The reward in the end is to compete at a university and it’s such a big deal and a big honor to see their sacrifices pay off.”

Success soon followed for Guerin and Vance, both of whom Beal said are diligent and dedicated to their sport. They’ve been able to do so despite serious injures that would have forced other students to quit, Beal said.

Both gymnasts are considered Level 10, which is the highest and least restrictive level in the U.S. Junior Olympics program.

While the two believe the level of competition will increase for young gymnasts in the future, they believe it may mean more dedication will be necessary.

“It’s being dedicated to what you’re doing and work through those tough days when you don’t want to be in the gym,” Vance said. “It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s worth it.

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