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Column: Balance is the key in gymnastics

Deer Lake gymnast Sara O'Brien poses for a photo during Day 2 of the gymnastic competition at the 2018 NL Winter Games in Deer Lake.
Deer Lake gymnast Sara O'Brien poses for a photo during Day 2 of the gymnastic competition at the 2018 NL Winter Games in Deer Lake. - Nicholas Mercer

It takes a lot of mental preparation to be a gymnast.

Remembering the exact steps to take on the balance beam, knowing the right time to hit the springboard in the vault or the exact number of rotations you need on the bar is the difference between a good score and injuring yourself.

Just ask Deer Lake’s Sara O’Brien and she’ll tell you.

The 13-year-old member of Gracia Gymnastics club was one of a number of gymnastic athletes in Deer Lake earlier this week for the 2018 NL Winter Games.

A fan of the bars event, O’Brien likes to run through her routines in her head before she competes.

“You have to be every aware of where your body is, which takes a lot of time to do,” she said. “I moved up pretty quickly, but it was difficult getting used to some of the apparatus.

“Some of the apparatus came easy, while others didn’t. The bars were really hard for me, but floor wasn’t as hard.”

A superior athletic contest, gymnastics are finely tuned machines that are adept at gracefully throwing yourself through the air and having the confidence to land safely isn’t an easy task and the last thing you want to be is distracted by the outside world.

“You have to be able to block everything out,” said O’Brien.

It’s when you can’t shield yourself from distraction that accidents happen.

The only experience I have with gymnastics is through the Olympic Games. It’s the only time it’s on television and the only time I seek it out, really.

It’s easy marvel at the speed which these athletes throw themselves into the various disciplines and get lost in the sport’s high volume of somersaults, backflips and artistic grace.

Watching events like the balance beam and the bars always leaves me with one question though.

How do gymnasts do it and not serious injure themselves every time out?

It baffles my mind just thinking about it.

It’s a question O’Brien gets all of the time when people who aren’t familiar with the sport watch for the first time.

“It takes practice. Lots of practice,” she said. “To know where you are on the beams and the bar takes a lot of coordination.”

The Games gave her an opportunity to experience something new in her young career in the sport — compete at home.

In the four-plus years O’Brien has been competing at events she has never had the opportunity to perform in her hometown.

The significance of the Games isn’t lost on her. She knows it was a privilege to have friends and family in the gymnasium at Xavier Junior High School while she shot for the gold.

Unfortunately, it didn’t come to fruition for O’Brien in the first half of the Games.

 “It felt awesome to be able to compete here and have my family watch me and to represent Deer Lake,” she said.

Nicholas Mercer is the online editor with The Western Star. He lives in Corner Brook and can be reached at nicholas.mercer@thewesternstar.com

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