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Gymnasts conquer fears, difficulties of balance beam

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Kaylee Barger performs her routine on the balance beam Friday, Dec. 27, 2013, during gymnastics practice at Columbus East.
Kaylee Barger performs her routine on the balance beam Friday, Dec. 27, 2013, during gymnastics practice at Columbus East.

Katrina May remembers falling off the balance beam and breaking her foot when she was 12.

She missed a step on the 4-inch-wide apparatus and fell backward during a club practice at Jody’s Gymnastics Zone. The resulting injury put her out of action for four weeks.

But the fall didn’t deter May. She was the top gymnast as a freshman last season on a Columbus North team that finished fourth in the state.

“Beam is a difficult event because it’s so easy to mess up,” May said. “But the more skills you do in a practice, the easier it gets, and that’s how the fear goes away.

“I still do the same dismount, just a little bit harder,” she said. “I added a twist to it. I’ve done enough dismounts now that the fear has gone away.”

Junior Jaycie Jaggers, the top returning gymnast for Columbus East, feels the same way.

“I like the beam,” Jaggers said. “You have to get the mindset that you’re on that event, and you have to make that your favorite event while you’re on it. When you get over the fear of falling as you get older, it’s easier.”

Aside from the fear of being injured from a fall off the beam, gymnasts face the pressure of a half-point deduction for each fall. Both the Bull Dogs and Olympians, who face off against each other tonight at East, are well aware of that.

In last year’s dual meet at North, the Olympians were leading going into the final rotation but suffered a few falls on the beam, and the Bull Dogs overcame them for the win. Then in the regional at East, North finished its rotation on the beam and had a couple of falls that opened the door for the Olympians to claim their first regional title in 12 years.

“Beam is definitely my least-favorite event,” North senior Megan Heathcote said. “Going into any meet, it’s the event that I’m most worried about because I’m definitely the least consistent on beam.

“I’ve fallen on beam some, but it’s not exactly the falling itself that I’m scared of,” she said. “It’s the fact that it’s so easy to fall on it, and it can be a big deduction on your scores. I’m worried about it in that it may affect my score and my consistency, but I’m not worried about it in the aspect of my health and safety.”

Nancy Kirshman, who is in her 41st year as East’s gymnastics coach, said while her girls don’t work on each of the other three events every day, they always practice on the beam.

“It’s high,” Kirshman said. “It’s 4 feet off the floor, and it’s only 4 inches wide, and you’re asking girls to flip around and do everything up there. It doesn’t take anybody with any sense to walk up there and say, ‘This is going to be a little scary.’

“They fall, and they split the beam, and they roll off,” she said. “It’s painful, but it’s no more dangerous than anything else. Kids that are good gymnasts can attack the beam and go after it. It’s about learning how to center your body and move forward.”

“It’s actually one of my favorites because it’s 4 inches wide, and it’s really challenging,” East freshman Becca Bryan said. “It challenges me.”

“I think you have to focus while you’re on it, and you can’t think about other things,” East freshman Seena Greiwe said. “I’d say it isn’t my favorite, but I definitely like it more than some of the others because it’s different than the rest.”

Freshman Ashley Holliday began her high school career with a bang in North’s season-opener, winning all four events and the all-around. That included a victory with a 9.05 on the beam.

“The beam is definitely the most stressful event for me,” Holliday said. “It’s a lot easier to fall on beam than the rest of the events, so that sort of worries me. I’ve definitely fallen quite a few times.”

“I think it is one of our favorite events, but also, we fall a lot. So we need to fix that,” North senior Karen Smiar said.

Like the competitors, Kirshman agreed that the beam is an event that grows on gymnasts.

“Very few people start out liking beam,” Kirshman said. “But as they progress through their gymnastics, they end up saying ‘It wasn’t so bad after all.’”

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