Gymnastics camp gaining in popularity

BY CLARK CAHILL | JUNE 19, 2009 7:21 AM

Even the boiling hot temperature and muggy atmosphere in the Field House North Gym could not keep participants from enjoying the annual Iowa Women’s Gymnastics Summer Camp.

The nearly 75 girls who took part in the camp, held Sunday through Thursday, made for the largest showing in many years, said Iowa head coach Larissa Libby.

“I hope it’s because we’re a little more popular as a team,” she said. “I think coming off of a great season, having many of the kids in the stands watching, it is exciting for them to be around the athletes they admire.”

Hannah Martin, 12, a second-year camper from Cedar Rapids, said learning from the Iowa athletes and coaches was something many of the campers enjoy.

“It gives you a different perspective and viewpoint from a new person,” she said. “I think they push me harder too.”

Libby also said the success of Des Moines native Shawn Johnson in the 2008 Summer Olympics had a large effect on aspiring gymnasts in the state.

The high number of participants allowed for Libby to add such activities as dance and trampoline. She also decided to incorporate a sports psychology class, taught by Shannon Baird, a graduate teaching assistant in health and sports studies, for all attendees. The Iowa team frequently uses sports psychology to maintain focus, Libby said.

“Around the ages of 11 to 13 is when gymnastics tends to lose a lot of kids,” she said. “I think it’s the point in life when the world becomes hard, but also, in gymnastics, it’s when they start to develop fears. Maybe we can give them an introduction to the tools that may help them deal with some of those fears, then maybe they won’t quit.”

Junior Andrea Hurlburt, one of several Iowa gymnasts who stayed with campers in the dorms at night, said the girls were eager to learn and participate despite the hot conditions, although fatigue set in for many after the first few days.

“It is really exhausting for everyone, especially for [the counselors] because we are trying to train at the same time,” Hurlburt said. “But for the majority of the time, [the campers] want to keep going.”

The camp consisted of two training sessions, lasting more than two hours each per day, followed by an open gym at the end of the night. Many campers enjoyed the open-gym session because it allowed them to partake in any activity they wanted.

“My favorite part is open gym because I love doing the beam and the trampoline,” said camper Lauren Easton, 10, of Center Point.

Despite the long training sessions, Libby said the camp’s main goal is for participants to have fun.
“We never profess to be an elite camp,” she said. “Certainly, we are capable of training upper-level skills and if those kids want to do that, that is what we are here for.”

The camp concluded with campers performing dance routines they had worked on throughout the week. Groups were split up by age and ability level.

“We want them to have four days of great experience, learning new things and different techniques,” Libby said. “Gymnastics is the same everywhere you go, but it is how you do it that makes the difference.”

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