Gymnasts help children’s hospital

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 26, 2002

When she first started taking gymnastics lessons from Tyrone Burks at the Suffolk YMCA, Jennifer Woods remembers, &uot;I couldn’t do anything harder than a cartwheel.&uot;

Over the past few years, however, the 12-year-old King’s Fork Middle School student has been sharpening her mat skills with her new teacher. Since last November, she’s been practicing at his East Constance Road school, Triple T Gymnastics.

&uot;Now I really like working on the floor exercises,&uot; said Jennifer, who has finished in the top three at several gymnastics meets. &uot;There’s really nothing there that I like the best, it’s all fun. I practice here about three times a week.&uot;

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On Saturday afternoon, Jennifer and her teammates on the center’s gymnastics teams celebrates National Gymnastics Day, putting on a floor routine for dozens of parents and visitors.

Jennifer’s little sister Daphanie, 8, prefers the balance beam exercises. &uot;I used to not be able to balance up there, but I got better after I practiced on the floor,&uot; Daphanie said. She calls the backwalk over, a procedure in which a competitor leans backward a kicks her feet over, to be her favorite technique.

&uot;I’m nervous if I’m in a competition, but not when I’m here.&uot; In 2000, Daphanie took first place in the floor, vault, bar, and balance beam event at a meet at Hampton’s Langley Air Force base.

Not only was the event a chance for Suffolk’s youngest gymnasts to show their stuff, Burks said, it also benefited the Children’s Hospital for the King’s Daughter.

&uot;Some of my students were in that hospital when they were younger,&uot; Burks said, &uot;and they wanted to do something to help out the kids that are still there.&uot; To raise money, the students held a &uot;Cartwheel-a-thon,&uot; in which people donated money for each cartwheel a student could perform. By the end of the day, the Triple T students had raised nearly $900.

Lauren Kemper, 11, did 100 cartwheels on Saturday alone. &uot;That was really easy, because I love doing cartwheels,&uot; said Kemper, who has been taking lessons from Burks for five years.

Later in the day, Wayne Spencer and his Warrior Club karate class, which holds class at the gymnastics center on Saturday mornings, gave the audience a martial arts display.

After a self-defense show, Spencer and his pupils showed off their strength. &uot;Boards don’t fight back,&uot; he said to the audience, holding up a small piece of wood. &uot;But to break it, the idea is to hit the board dead center.&uot;

Brothers Jeremy and Justin Harris took turns breaking boards with their fists and feet.

&uot;It feels great to break the board,&uot; said Jeremy, 9, who broke his first board when he was six. &uot;Sometimes it hurts, but it didn’t hurt today.&uot;

After several boards met their untimely end, Spencer brought out several long, thin bricks, drawing frightened shouts of &uot;Oh no!&uot; from his younger students.

&uot;This is for the most dedicated students,&uot; said the instructor, placing the brick across two cinder blocks. &uot;There’s no real secret to it. There are three things that we practice in my class: speed, accuracy, and power. You can hit the bricks on the edge as hard as you want, and it won’t break. But if you hit it right in the middle, it breaks right in half.&uot;

Jerry Plain, 16, a certified black belt, proved Spencer’s words, breaking the brick right in half.

&uot;I was nervous the first few times that I tried that, but not anymore,&uot; said Plain, a two-time state champion. &uot;I’ve broken two at a time before. It’s all in the mind. You just picture yourself going through the brick, and do it.&uot;