What started as a curiosity has turned into something very special for Jessica Meyer.
Meyer, a home-schooled 14-year-old resident of the Springfield community, has been taking gymnastics lessons for about three and-a-half years, first getting into the sport to follow in the footsteps of her sister, Samantha. But it turns out Meyer is somewhat of a natural, quickly picking up the sport and all of the subtleties and nuances that come with it.
“My coach said that God gave me a talent and he put me with him to help me use it,” she said.
“I didn’t really have much of a sports background before gymnastics. My sister did gymnastics before me, and I really liked doing all of the tricks on the trampoline because it looked really fun. I went for it and have loved it ever since.”
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Meyer entered her first set of competitions this year, but her coach, Nick Baker, knew she’d be ready once the bright lights were turned on.
“She’s a cello player, and she’s very good in school,” said Baker, who is the girls coach and owner of Metrolina Gymnastics in Charlotte.
“When she sets her mind to something she goes all out and I think that’s a great attribute. She’s determined and she works hard. On top of that she’s talented and she strives to get better. She’s a real talent and I wish I got her when she was 4 years old because I believe right now she could be a very high-level gymnast.”
What Mayer may lack in experience, she makes up for with dedication, her coach says.
“I think she has several things going for her,” Baker said.
“Physically, she’s an athlete and she’s strong. But I think the biggest thing is her work ethic. She’s so determined and once she started working to develop a skill she’d continue to strive to achieve that skill to the best of her ability. She’s a perfectionist.”
After winning the state championship in the Excel Silver — a division between Levels 3 and 4 — Meyer went on to the regional championship May 21 in Greensboro, N.C. Meyer said she didn’t know what to expect as she was set to compete against 14 people in her age group, but she took her chances.
“I was the first gymnast to go on the floor, and I was nervous because they usually judge the first competitor on the first event really hard,” she said. “I messed up once, but I had a really good floor routine and ended up getting a 9.275 and I was really happy with that. It took a lot of pressure off me.”
Meyer entered the vault on her next event, and scored a 9.525, which was her first time scoring over 9.5 on that discipline.
Meyer said her next event, the bars, is her hardest discipline, but one she’s been working hard to improve.
“I think the easiest part of gymnastics for me is the flexibility,” she said. “But the bars are the hardest. First, it’s the strength that’s required, but it’s also that I’m much taller (5-feet-4.5 inches) than the average gymnast, so I have to be even stronger.”
And, she said, the bars at the regional championship were set higher than Meyer usually trains at, so that was another obstacle to overcome.
She said all of that made her nervous before she got on the bars, but she was able to stick the landing and scored a 9.675, her highest-ever score on that event.
The beam was the final event. Meyer said she wobbled once on a cartwheel and almost fell on a leap, but still garnered a 9.65. Overall, Meyer placed first in the floor and vault, was second in the bars earning her the all-around regional championship.
“I was really surprised by and happy with my performance,” she said.
“I was amazed and really thankful for what I was able to do. I didn’t set out to win states or regionals. I thought I would maybe be average, but it was very nice. It’s a very big confidence booster, but it will also push me to do as well or better when I get to the next level.”
Her performance came as less of a surprise to Baker.
“It’s crazy because she’s gotten into the fine details now,” he said.
“A lot of kids are happy just to hit their routine, but on every skill she tries to make that specific skill even better. In a routine with 10 skills, most kids will shine at three or four of them, but she’s polishing every single skill including the little steps and arm positions in between. When somebody goes to that level, the judge can see the difference and that’s why she scored higher. What she’s doing is very rare.”
Meyer said she is going to up her training and move up to 10 hours per week before next season kicks off in January.
“In gymnastics you have to have a certain work ethic,” she said. “If you work that hard it can carry over into your life and make you work that hard in school and other aspects of your life. I think most of the credit goes to my coach, because he’s worked with me a lot and helped me develop it.”
Baker said he has helped her with her technique, but the results Meyer has seen is a direct result of her work ethic.
“She’s a great kid and she works so hard,” Baker said. “I’m really proud of her.”
With a regional championship under her belt, Meyer said she wants to keep working and see how far she can get with the sport she’s done so much with in so little time.
“I know I won’t be going to the Olympics or anything, but it’s something I’m good at and something that I love to do,” she said. “I don’t exactly know where I will end up with gymnastics, but I know I love it and I want to keep doing it.”