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O’Neal sets goals high

Keith Jiron
Sarah Jane O'Neal prepare s for a tumbling run at a gymnastics competition.
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

Jerry O’ Neal Jr. isn’t ashamed to admit his emotions got the best of him when his oldest daughter Sarah Jane qualified for the USA Gymnastics Nationals earlier this month.

Sarah Jane, 15, just took third in the in the western regional Level 9 all around in Las Vegas when the former two-time California State Golden Gloves Boxing heavyweight champ got a little misty.

“I’m a very emotional man. (And) being an ex-champion myself, I know all of the dedication and hard work it takes to get to that level. And to see her attain that, I got a big ol’ throat apple,” he said.

Sarah Jane earned a spot in the April 28th’s national competition in Rapid City, South Dakota thanks to her top 16 showing in the Level 9, 15 year old age group in Las Vegas.

She scored a 9.2 on the floor exercise, a 9.05 on the vault, and 8.75s on both the balance beam and uneven bars to finish with an overall score of 35.750.

“I was nervous that first day, but I knew I probably made it after the floor exercise because it was such a good score,” she said. “I was pretty excited when I found out (I’d qualified).”

The Bear River freshman said the while the opportunity to compete against the best the nation has to offer is a bonus, it’s the exposure she’ll get to potential college or national coaches is the real prize.

“I would kind of like to go the Olympics, but what I really want is to get a scholarship to college,” she said.

What Sarah Jane wants, her father says, she gets.

“She excels at every level. With school, she’s a straight-A student, and athletically, she’s very tough mentally and physically,” Jerry O’Neal said. “In the really tough meets, you see a lot of the other gymnasts making mistakes and just buckling under the pressure. But she just finds this other gear and overcomes.”

Sarah Jane’s drive to succeed comes from an inability to accept defeat.

“I don’t want people to beat me (at anything),” she said. “I don’t feel pressure (from the outside), I just want to do well in (everything I do).”

Sarah Jane’s road to this, her first trip to the nationals, began at the age of eight.

“Six months before her eighth birthday, I promised I’d take her down and sign her up. She (must have) forgotten about it, because when her birthday came around and I took her down the gym, she was like, ‘What are we doing here?’ I told her we were going to sign her up and she just (went crazy),” Jerry O’Neal said.

Sarah Jane stayed at that gym in the bay area gym for four years before the family picked up stakes and headed for the Gold Country in late 1998.

She bounced around in a couple gymnastics programs before she settled at the Miyagi Gymnastics Academy in Auburn.

Three and a half years of 20-plus hour practice weeks later and she’s among the six-state western region’s best.

O’Neal, who took second in the state at Level 8 last season, scored a personal-best 35.9 for second place in all around at the Reno Hilton Invitational earlier in the season.

The Pasadena-born O’Neal has been unstoppable on the vault this year. She’s recorded wins in seven of nine competitions.

“The vault comes easy to me. I just learn quickly on it,” she said.

The O’Neals are looking to the community for any sponsorships to offset part of the approximate $1,500 cost of next weekend’s trip.

Tax-deductible donations can be made to MATS c/o Sara Jane O’Neal at the Miyagi Gymnastics Academy, 3437 Bell Road, Auburn.

Or call MGA at (530) 888-6569 for more information.


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