Gymnasts heading to Las Vegas

PUHI — The 10 gymnasts from Kauai Gymnastics Academy were excited about their new pink leotards Wednesday evening at the Puhi facility.

“This is the first time they’re wearing them since the fitting,” said Jack Leonard, the Kauai Gymnastics Academy co-owner and coach. “The next time they put this on will be in Las Vegas, Nevada, in two weeks.”

The 10 girls will be participating in the 2017 Amateur Athletic Union Western Regional Gymnastics Championships Feb. 24-26 at the Las Vegas Westgate Resort and Casino convention center.

Five of the girls — Ashlynn Questin, Ashley Ricciardi, Mia Ricciardi, Angela-Rhey Ventura and Lani Johnson — will be competing at Level 8. Five of the girls — Madison Welsh, Olivia Dilley, Haley Zina, Savannah Hubbard and Maddison Hubbard — will be competing at Level 6.

“We had six girls who participated last year for the first time,” Leonard said. “Five of those girls will be returning as Level 8 competitors. The other girl, Kysa Ishikawa, is away at college. We also have five girls competing at Level 6 for the first time. Under the AAU competition guidelines, there are just 10 levels the girls can compete in.”

Leonard said the girls have been working hard in anticipation of this competition since they made the decision ahead of the annual Winter Showcase held at Kukui Grove Center in December.

“I tell them they need to have ownership of the events they’re competing in,” Leonard said. “They need to become performers of daring and grace that is deserving of the hard work they’ve put in. The routines they’re each involved in are harder than just tricks, but they need to think that this is a time to celebrate their accomplishments.”

The daring and grace aspect comes in the athlete’s ability to “connect” the different routines into a smooth flow.

Leonard said the girls need to prepare not only physically, but also for the experience of performing before an audience. The annual Winter Showcase is a chance to perform in public.

“They need to be ready to perform when others look at them,” Leonard said. “Often, athletes start doubting themselves when they perform before this many people, judges and coaches. During practice, I’ll send them into the bathroom where they need to look at themselves in the mirror and tell that person, ‘My, you’re good!’”

Leonard said another challenge for these girls is time spent in practice.

“Athletes at these levels practice five days a week,” he said. “We have the girls just three days, and need to space out their training over this limited time.”

The countdown clock, prominently displayed on the wall at the Puhi studio, is now set to the AAU Regional Gymnastics Championship, the seconds ticking down while the girls adjusted to their new competition wear.

“We leave in two weeks,” Leonard said. “We’ll see what happens when we leave everything on the competitive mats.”

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