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Young girls work with GymHawks at Camp

BY TOM GOLDHAMMER | JUNE 13, 2012 6:30 AM

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Eleven hours a day for five days: that's how long 75 eager girls ranging from 6 to 18 years old are honing their gymnastic talents in the Field House North Gym. The Iowa Gymnastics Camp brings the youngsters into the gym, in which they get prime coaching and advice from the Iowa women's team.

Iowa head gymnastics coach Larissa Libby, the leader of the camp, is a veteran of the sport who has held this session for each of the 13 years that she's been associated with the Hawkeyes.

She insists that there's a place for everybody in gymnastics but knows that even the youngest gymnast is training with huge expectations for a career in the sport. Libby makes sure that her college athletes who make up the counseling staff at the camp help the kids find a balance between passion and dedication to the sport.

It takes commitment an early age in order to compete with the enormous field of hopeful gymnasts that these girls will see at the next level of competition.

Sixteen-year-old Emily Ramberg, who has performed for Flyaways Gold, a national-level dance team in Forest Lake, Minn., has been training in gymnastics since she was 4.

"My dream since the seventh grade has been to earn a scholarship at the University of Iowa."

Gymnastics has no off-season, and the gymnasts have to practice nearly every day in order to maintain their skills. It's difficult to preserve such a high level of physical fitness year round, but most high-level gymnasts pick up the routine at an early age. Their rigorous training will practically be second nature by the time they're ready to earn scholarships out of high school.

Throughout the day, the girls are shuttled around the gym floor to various stations that incorporate every aspect of the sport.

Most of the drills in the gym are physically demanding, but senior Kaitlynn Urano led a lesson that's a little more artistic. It's change of pace from the strenuous discipline that gymnastics demands.

Although similar movements and effort are put into the artistry of both dance and gymnastics, Urano said the goal in her instruction is to get the kids out of their comfort zones.

Iowa gymnast Sydney Hoerr, a sophomore counselor who was assisting girls in a vaulting drill, stressed the importance of developing confidence and getting the girls to "trust their bodies" at a young age.

A hesitant camper was taking slightly longer than usual to make her attempt at the drill, and she was boosted by Hoerr's encouragement. The camper executed the stunt as cleanly as anyone else who made the leap, thanks to Hoerr's patience.

"I definitely went through the same things," she said.

It's no ordinary summer camp. The children are always smiling and laughing, but it's clear that their intentions at the camp are more likely for business than pleasure. The mix of sweat and determination on the faces of even the smallest girls demonstrates that the dream of pursuing future gymnastic endeavors is alive and well in each of them.

"We like to make it fun," Libby said. "But at this age, everyone wants to be the next Shawn Johnson."


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