Chatter came to a quick halt at Victory Gymnastics Academy in Columbus as 15 young girls stopped talking to lock their eyes on Morgan Lane, who was about to enter her practice tumbling line on the floor exercise.
At 16, Lane was more than twice the age of the girls, who no doubt would love to live up to their role model’s incredible ability to turn herself into an airplane propeller.
This practice run was no different from most, Lane spinning her 4-foot-11 body into two complete rotations before she landed squarely on both feet, coach Gary Stam adding just a spotter’s touch.
Stam mentioned that Lane certainly didn’t need his assistance, but a little helping hand on the way down “saves the ankles.”
The Lane file
WHO: Morgan Lane
WHAT: Level 10 Junior Olympics Nationals gymnastics qualifier for the meet May 10-11 at the Minneapolis Convention Center.
SCHOOL: Junior at Columbus North
CLUB: Victory Gymnastics Academy, Columbus
COACH: Gary Stam
When Lane stuck her landing, the rest of the students went back to work. They had a lot to do if they someday hope to perform that kind of routine.
“I’ve coached for 30-some years,” said Stam, who has trained Lane for the past three years. “I’ve had maybe five kids of Mo’s caliber.”
Lane, a junior at Columbus North High School, performs at Level 10, which is one notch below the Elite gymnasts, whose parents sometimes need to mortgage the house and ship their child to another land.
That wasn’t acceptable to Cindy Mason and John Lane (married but using different last names), who weren’t about to miss their daughter’s childhood.
“From age 9 to 11, gymnasts compete in TOPs, a talent opportunity program,” said Mason, who is a local doctor. “It’s a program that looks for future talent. It was at that time we had to decide.
“Were we going to go the elite route or were we more interested in Level 10? We were driving her to the north side of Indianapolis or to Cincinnati, and we decided at that point, our family and just, in general, family life was more important than sending our daughter off.
“A lot of these gymnasts do 30-plus hours a week in the gym, and they have a higher injury level and burn out. We felt staying here in Columbus, she could have a normal life and still do what she loves. The toll of that (Elite) lifestyle was too much.”
Staying in Columbus meant competing for Jody’s Gymnastics Zone, where Lane has spent most of her days in the sport under the guidance of Jody Tompkins.
“Jody has known Morgan since those days way back when we started classes,” Mason said. “She has been one of her coaches throughout the years. She helped her to grow and develop.”
But growing and developing meant having fun as well, a different focus from producing elite gymnasts.
Stam explained that about 100 girls nationwide compete at the Elite level and only a handful get the ultimate prize of an Olympics berth.
He noted that many Level 10 gymnasts are former Elite gymnasts who want to make a big splash at Level 10’s national tournaments in order to secure a college scholarship.
Lane, a Level 9 national balance beam champion, will face an extremely competitive field when she competes at the Level 10 Junior Olympics Nationals on May 10-11 at the Minneapolis Convention Center. She placed second in the floor exercise (9.625) and fifth in the all-around (37.55) at the 2013 Level 10 Regional Meet, which included Level 10 gymnasts from Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio and Kentucky.
Although Lane, whose sisters, Tessa (20) and Chelsea (22) also were gymnasts, started competing in gymnastics at age 6, Stam said she is somewhat of a late bloomer in terms of being a national level competitor.
“We didn’t get her doing those skills soon enough,” Stam said. “When a girl is 15, usually she has learned everything she is going to learn about gymnastics.”
Lane is making forward strides at a time when many quality gymnasts have decided to pursue other interests. That is evident because Lane is the last gymnast standing among her age group at Victory Gymnastics Academy, with most of the others either having stopped gymnastics altogether or moved to the high school level.
“Club is a lot more competitive,” said Lane, who might have given Columbus North a shot at a state title if she decided to compete during her junior year. “I want to do (gymnastics) in college, and I thought I would have better opportunities to be seen by college coaches.”
It was a tough decision for Lane, who knows many of the girls who compete for North and East high schools.
“I get a lot of questions,” she said.
Mason said high school rules forced her daughter into the decision to stick with club only.
“It’s very hard here in Indiana the way they do it,” she said. “You can only do two club meets, and it makes it hard for the girls to do (both). If you add high school, you are practicing every day of the week and you are going from high school practice to club practice. I know they all would like to be together.
“Then we’ve got Gary, who is a wonderful coach, and North has Sandy Freshour and East has Nancy Kirshman, and they are great coaches. It makes it hard to decide.
“But college coaches go to club meets.”
The situation has made Lane the elder statesman at Victory Gymnastics Academy.
“It’s been kind of tough, trying to stay with it when all your friends stop,” Lane said. “But I do like all the little girls. I can set an example and be a role model.”
Lane definitely is a proponent of leading by example.
“I work hard and try to be dedicated and motivated,” she said. “And when you get tired and sore, you just have to push past it. You just have to want it.”
Mason said her daughter follows that philosophy with everything she does.
“I think she is most hardworking child I’ve ever seen,” Mason said. “She will do something until she does it exactly right. She knows what she wants, and she is going to get it.”
What she wants to get now is a scholarship to a college gymnastics program. She visited the University of North Carolina and said she would be a good fit for that program. A solid performance at the national meet could expand her opportunities.
“Her tumbling is amazing,” Stam said. “She could compete at just about any college right now.”
Despite her size, Lane is a power-keg of strength.
“Dynamite comes in small packages,” her mom said.
“She likes strength training, doing pushups, situps, moving her body weight around,” Stam said. “She can do a handstand on the beam for two minutes and stay still.”
That strength translates into impressive and acrobatic routines. “I like the beam and the floor the best,” she said. “You can put more of your personality into it.”
Stam said that gymnastics might be putting more personality to Lane.
“She has come out of her shell,” he said. “She had been shy and so humble. She doesn’t think she is that good.
“She doesn’t like to be the center of attention, and she never will pat herself on the back. She tears herself up a little too much.”
Perhaps her desire to be a role model has forced her to be a little more outgoing.
“The girls are so funny,” Mason said. “They look up to her. ‘There’s Mo. Go Mo.’ They see how hard she works.”
Mason always has seen how hard her daughter works.
“She was a natural, but she worked hard. If you were supposed to do five of something, she would do five or more.”
“She wants to be a national competitor,” Stam said. “It’s not for me, it’s not for her parents. She is pushing for it.
“There is not much she can’t do.”