Gymnasts heading to Regional championships

PUHI — Kauai Gymnastics Academy owner and coach Jack Leonard distributed new equipment to the six athletes, checking for fit, Monday night at the Puhi facility.

“This is the last practice before the girls hit the mats Sunday in Las Vegas for their competition,” Leonard said.

Six Kauai Gymnastics Academy athletes — Ashley Ricciardi, Angela Rhey Ventura, Kaisa Ishikawa, Ashlynn Questin, Mia Ricciardi, and coach Lani Johnson — will be competing for the first time at the Amateur Athletic Union Western Regional Gymnastics Championships.

Leonard outfitted the athletes with warm up jackets, something they have never needed during their workouts on Kauai, custom-fitted with their names and the gym’s logo embroidered. He also added special uniform competition leotards.

“You never see the gymnasts with warm up gear when they’re working here,” Leonard said. “But the weather is different in Las Vegas where they’ll be competing in a hotel that has been set up for the competition. This is something they’ll need up there.”

Leading the group will be coach Lani Johnson who started working out at the Kauai Gymnastics Academy when she was just 11 years old.

“This is the first meet for everybody who is going,” Johnson said. “When I started, I had a problem staying on the beam. Now, I stay on a lot. At the competion, I guess I’ll be kind of a mentor and role model as a coach so I hope I can stay on and look good.”

Leonard said the girls will be competing in Section 14, A-B Level 8 grouping which will have at least 50 gymnasts.

“I have never brought the girls to other competitions because of what they offer,” Leonard said. “All of our girls will be competing in Level 8. I didn’t want to have to downgrade their levels just because of a competition. These girls will be competing at the level they perform in. They’ll be in an environment where they will get more than they wished for.”

Training for the competition started even before the annual gymnastics show presented back in December at the Kukui Grove.

“The girls have been working on protocol,” Leonard said. “When you get there, you can’t just go on; you need to wait until you are signaled. These are just some of the courtesies of the sport that show respect for the professionals who are scoring you. The sport of gymnastics is performing well, not just executing moves.”

Ishikawa, a senior at Kauai High School, has been performing at Kauai Gymnastics Academy since she was 4 years old.

“This is my last hurrah,” Ishikawa said. “I’m excited about going. This is my first gymnastics match outside the gym, and I’m just excited.”

Ventura, another senior at Kauai High School, has worked with Kauai Gymnastics Academy for eight years, and is also excited about being able to compete.

“I’m excited, but I’m also scared at the same time,” Ventura said. “Yeah! I’m going to have to do well on my floor exercises because that’s where I have my bigger and harder moves. I’m comfortable with what I’ve been doing so I’m just excited about showing what I can do.”

Questin is one of the younger members on the team.

“I’m really nervous,” Questin said. “I have some hard passes I do during my floor routine and I get tired quickly. I just have to keep working at that.”

Ashley Ricciardi said she has been concentrating on her beam routine, especially her dismounts.

Her sister, Mia Ricciardi, flashed a nervous smile.

“I’m really nervous,” she said. “But I’m comfortable on the beam and I think I can do it.”

Their mother, Stacy, watched the workouts with the keen interest of an athlete’s mother.

“We’re all going to the competition,” Stacy said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun because we’re turning the trip into a family vacation afterwards — it’ll be spring break!”

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