It’s true, these kids even look forward to … Training days |

It’s true, these kids even look forward to … Training days

Oh sure, Stephanie Herron and Karissa Painter would love to one day stand atop the podium to have an Olympic gold medal placed over their heads, just as American Carly Patterson did last month in winning the women’s gymnastics all-around in Athens.

And yes, they do enjoy competing, showcasing their skills at competitions throughout Northern California.

But what do these 10 year olds like most about gymnastics?

Would you believe the training?

“I enjoy it a lot, coming in every day and working out and seeing my friends,” said Painter, a fifth-grader at Alta Sierra Elementary.

If it’s the daily practice sessions that they like best, then Painter and Herron – who said she also deeply digs getting down to work each day – must have considered the past few months somewhat of a euphoric experience. That’s because they’ve been training nearly five hours a day, five days a week in preparation for USA Gymnastics’ annual National Talented Opportunity Program testing.

Today, the two Rising Starz Gymnastics Academy members are headed to the Bela Karolyi Gymnastics Center in Houston, Texas, along with 248 of the country’s top gymnasts between the ages of 9 and 11, in hopes of earning a spot on the TOPs National Team. Those qualifying for the team at this week’s testing will be invited to attend a training camp back at the Karolyi Center in December.

“They both made the national testing last year,” said RSGA girls program director Doug Miller, who is in his 20th year as a gymnastics coach. “Hopefully they will be more relaxed this time in that they know what to expect. They seem to be more relaxed here in the gym, at least so far.”

Herron, a fifth-grader at Sierra Christian School, said she, too, expects her previous trip to make a difference this time around.

“It felt good when I got to go to the camp and train with (other top gymnasts). It felt like it’s all paid off,” said Herron, who also plays the piano, enjoys soccer and is involved in a drama club. “When I went to a camp in Chicago that I was invited to over the summer, it was really neat to see all the Olympic coaches. They were actually coaching me. It was like ‘Wow, I can’t believe I’m here.’

“I hope to be able go to the world team tryouts and then the Olympics someday. That would be really cool for me.”

Fifteen 10-year-olds, out of the 114 testing this week, will earn that spot on the TOPs national team, while another 15 will be chosen as alternates.

Whether they are among those 15 – or 30 – when the testing is complete, Herron and Painter will have gained plenty from just the experience itself, Miller said.

He noted what a confidence-builder such a trip can be for future competitions.

“When (Painter) first came up, she had very bad anxiety – not feeling good – before a meet,” he said. “And now she is one of the coolest ones in the gym. The experience just teaches them to relax and have fun.

“Pressure-wise, yeah it’s one of the toughest sports. But the more you get into the upper levels, the pressure is still there, but they handle it differently. They learn to have such control over their emotions that it just doesn’t bother them.”

Painter, who said she also enjoys hitting the soccer field when she’s not in the gym, said she’s already noticed such a change in her own ability to perform in pressure situations.

“It’s a lot easier now. I used to be a lot more nervous,” she said. “I just have a lot of confidence in myself and in being able to try new things.”

For more information on the TOPs program, click onto or to learn more about Rising Starz Gymnastics, click onto

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