Tons of tykes go tumbling

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Suffolk News-Herald

Perhaps more than any other sport, gymnastics requires a huge amount of concentration and focus. There are few things more difficult and potentially nerve-wracking than performing a handstand or backflip on an incredibly thin balance beam, especially under the watchful eyes and cheering mouths of a huge audience.

No, the sport definitely isn’t for those who are all thumbs. But if they have just an extra one, as Paris Rozell once did, well, that’s OK.


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Born with a double-thumb (her hand had an extra bone and fingernail), the Kilby Shores Elementary School student began taking lessons at the Triple T Gymnastics Center back in September. Last month, however, she needed a second surgery (the first one came in infancy) to correct her abnormality.

By then, the enjoyable pull of gymnastics was far too strong to keep her out for too long. &uot;I was back here the day after I had surgery,&uot; Paris says. &uot;I wanted to come back and have some fun.&uot;

She and the dozens of other young gymnasts at the school got a huge chance to do so on Sunday, as the center hosted the First (and hopefully annual) Recreational Gymnastics Show. Participants ranging from age two to 18 showed their skills on the floor, beam, vault and parallel bars to a jammed crowd of family and friends, the size of which surprised co-owner Tyrone Burks.

&uot;I really thought an extra set of bleachers would have been enough,&uot; Burks told the audience, which required several impromptu seating arrangements on the floors. &uot;Hopefully that won’t be a problem if we get our extension.&uot; The studio is in talks to purchase the building it currently rents from local car dealer Mike Duman, and put a 10,000 foot extension on the side. Equipped with higher ceilings than the current place, the building could potentially be used for local competitions.

&uot;Our kids really don’t get much of an opportunity to show what they’ve learned,&uot; Burks said. &uot;This way, they can show their parents and friends what they’ve picked up here. We’re all about the kids. They could go to another gym, but they come here, and this is our way of saying thanks.&uot;

The kids marched into the center to the strands of the gospel song, &uot;I Need You To Survive.&uot; The youngest group, many of which were barely old enough to walk, performed small routines on a makeshift bar and balance beam, both of which were less than two feet off the ground.

Then the older students hit the normal sized equipment. At each corner of the gym, they twirled around the uneven bars, leaped over the vault, did high kicks on the balance beam, and backflipped and bridged their way across the floor.

&uot;I have to say that the beam is my favorite,&uot; said Logan Crews, 6. &uot;I can do a lot of things up there, like a handstand. I just know that I won’t fall off, because the people standing there won’t let me.&uot;

Lauren Burgess, a student at Nansemond Parkway Elemen-tary School, soared off the vault to the cheers of the audience. &uot;I REALLY like the vault, because I can do a front handspring,&uot; she said (a front handspring is similar to a cartwheel, except it’s done while moving directly forward). &uot;I can’t do that on the floor, because I hurt myself once.&uot;

Aided by instructor Jenny Austin, who helped train 1988 Olympic gymnast and recent Virginia Sports Hall of Fame inductee Hope Spivey, Stefany Spencer wowed the crowd with her hip pullover skills on the uneven bars (in this case, hip refers to the body part, rather than the &uot;coolness&uot; of the move. However, her accomplishment could still be referred to as radical, awesome, and perhaps even gnarly!).

&uot;It took me about a month to learn that,&uot; said the Mack Benn Elementary School eight-year-old. In a pullover, a gymnast coils her body about the bar and flips around and around it. &uot;I want to be able to jump off the lower bar and land on the big one.&uot;

After everything calmed down, Paris, whose tentative hand had kept her from the vault and bar exercises, was one of the last to leave. &uot;The beam is still my favorite,&uot; she said. &uot;It helps me with heights, because I don’t like heights. I don’t look down while I’m up there. When my hand gets a little better, I’m going to try to do some cartwheels and handstands.&uot;