Archive for Thursday, April 3, 2003

Gymnast juggles roles as athlete

April 3, 2003

At 6 p.m. on a recent Tuesday, the KGDC gym in Olathe is buzzing with activity, with the youngest gymnasts doing sit-ups in one corner while others run and tumble on the squishy mats that cover the floor. But none of this activity distracts Eudora Middle School student Melissa Fernandez as she leaps and poses on the balance beam with poise.

This weekend Fernandez will take her skills to an eight-state regional championship competition that could qualify her for an even more prestigious competition.

"You don't know until you get there what you have to do to qualify," said Fernandez's coach, Annie Duncan. "She has a fairly good chance of making it as anyone."

Fernandez said qualifying at regionals would propel her to her highest level of competition yet. Having been in gymnastics since age 6, the Eudora Middle School eighth-grader said she was used to the pressures of competing and everything that went with it, including the neat-as-a-pin, slicked-back hair and competition leotards. But then again, gymnastics came to her naturally before she ever began formal training.

"My mom told me I was always running around and doing cartwheels and stuff, and she decided to put me in gymnastics," she said.

Duncan said she thought Fernandez's strength was in the balance beam, even though the athlete succeeded overall, too.

"She's good at everything," the coach said. "She wouldn't be going (to regionals) if she wasn't."

Yet Fernandez's athletic talent extends beyond gymnastics. Last fall, she played volleyball, and this spring she's doing the pole vault and running hurdles, as well as taking a weightlifting class in school.

"Track helps me with my vaulting; gymnastics helps with everything in track," she said.

Fernandez said she would like to either continue gymnastics in college or join the armed services, and with her stringent athletic schedule, basic training shouldn't be a problem. Until that point, however, she spends 22 hours a week in gymnastics alone, on top of school work and school sports, which begs the question, "How does she do it?"

"I have no idea," Fernandez said.

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