Overcoming the odds

4 young gymnasts bring home the gold

When you think of gymnastics, it’s easy to think of cartwheels and handstands. But four girls, Arianna Vincenzes, Macy Wilton, Lisa Lewis and Elleece Summerson, from the Bearfoot Gymnastics team, took home nine first place medals from state competitions in everything from uneven bars to the vault to balance beam.

Bearfoot Gymnastics has been open now for one year and almost their whole competitive team qualified for states, said Courtney Pearson, owner and coach at Bearfoot Gymnastics and former gymnast. The majority of the team won medals.

“It was just amazing to me that this first year we had so many girls qualify to states. That is just above and beyond my expectations,” Pearson said.

Students don’t start competitive gymnastics until they are 5 to 8 years old, depending on their skill levels and if they are ready for it, Pearson said.

When competing in states, the students compete individually and as a team. To have a team, you need three students competing, Pearson said. All girls that qualify can compete at the state meets.

“It’s a lot of pressure for little girls — it’s a big meet, there’s a lot of people there. There’s judges there that are hired to pick apart these routines and tell them where they stand,” Pearson said.

Meets begin in December and end with state competitions, which run from March till May, depending on levels, Pearson said. In order to qualify for states, girls need specific scores from other competitions in the meet season to attend. Scores are based on a 10-point system, a standard for scoring at this level.

USA Gymnastics holds different levels in different regions of Pennsylvania, such as Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Pearson said. The state competitions bring together hundreds of girls in one weekend. Bearfoot Gymnastics took Levels 3, 6 and 7 to compete in states.

“It’s similar to track in the way that there are events and an all-around at the end. So they have vault, uneven bars, balance beam, floor exercise and then the all-around is all four of them added together,” Pearson said. Different levels are “based off of their skill level — routines progress as the levels progress.”

In the Level 3 group was Vincenzes and Wilton. For Vincenzes, it was her first year competing and she was 8 years old. She took first in vault, balance beam and all-around, Pearson said. Wilton is 10 years old and took first in vault and balance beam.

Summerson is 7 years old, competed in Level 6 and won all around, Pearson said. Lewis is 12 years old, competed for her first year in the XCEL Gold level and took first in uneven bars, balance beam and all-around.

The four girls continue practicing gymnastics because it’s fun and they enjoy learning new things, Vincenzes said. This year, her goal was to win states. Her new goal is to get first on bars.

“I’m so proud of myself … because I learn new things and I met my goals,” Vincenzes said.

One of Wilton’s favorite parts about gymnastics and competitions is getting called up to the podium, she said.

Summerson enjoys learning something new everyday, something she continues to strive for, Summerson added.

Prior to winning states, Lewis and her mother made a bet that if she won states, she would get a dog, Pearson and Lewis said.

“When you go to competitions and you don’t struggle with something and you know that you accomplished your goals … You don’t think back at practice and think, I should have worked harder,” Lewis said

“For their age, I was very impressed for how they handled themselves. They are very mature,” Pearson said. The girls are “very strong individuals and they can take critique. It definitely teaches them to learn from their mistakes and not to harp on their mistakes.”

Gymnastics is a year-round and full-time sport and, typically, students don’t always get a break, she said. Pearson encourages her girls to take a break, though, during the year if they need it since they are still kids.

The girls on the team are close and good friends at Bearfoot Gymnastics, Pearson said. They are all very supportive of one another and cheer on other competitors at meets.

The team takes girls and boys interested in the sport starting at 18 months till 18 years old, Pearson said. Classes run year-round.

Gymnastics is fun but a busy lifestyle, Pearson said. Students involved are very dedicated to the sport due to the busy scheduling, training and travel involved. They have a serious discussion with their parents at a young age about their dedication to the practice.

At states, “they shined. They were not scared. They did not feel the pressure that I thought they would feel and, if anything, they worked even harder at the state meet,” Pearson said. Gymnastics is “so exciting. There’s no limit to what you can learn.”