September 18, 2014

Medina
Mostly clear
56°F

Young gymnasts striking a balance

Mackenzie Knox, left, and Caitlyn Corrigan practice at Gymnastics World. (Photo by Ron Schwane, The Gazette.)

Mackenzie Knox, left, and Caitlyn Corrigan practice at Gymnastics World. (Photo by Ron Schwane, The Gazette.)

BROADVIEW HTS. — TOPs is an acronym for the nationally standardized Talent Opportunity Program, but it’s also a very accurate description of Mackenzie Knox and Caitlyn Corrigan’s current standing in the gymnastics community.

The two local athletes and frequent Gymnastics World training partner Tessa Phillips were among 300 gymnasts selected to attend the national TOPs testing program Sept. 24-26 at the Karolyi Ranch in Huntsville, Texas.

Mackenzie Knox, left, and Caitlyn Corrigan pose  at Gymnastics World in Broadview Heights on Monday. The two gymnasts have been selected to attend the national TOPs testing program at the Karolyi Ranch in September. (Photo by Ron Schwane, The Gazette.)

Mackenzie Knox, left, and Caitlyn Corrigan pose at Gymnastics World in Broadview Heights on Monday. The two gymnasts have been selected to attend the national TOPs testing program at the Karolyi Ranch in September. (Photo by Ron Schwane, The Gazette.)

Knox, a 10-year-old Level 8 competitor who will be a fifth-grader at Waite Elementary, and Corrigan, a 9-year-old Level 6-7 gymnast who is home-schooled, were chosen out of a nationwide pool of 2,700 athletes after performing extremely well in a series of 10 strength, flexibility and speed exercises in Youngstown.

In Huntsville, each will vie for one of 20 spots on their respective national age group team. If they make it, they will receive free air fare, lodging and training with national coaches for a four-day return trip the first week of December. The next 20 athletes in each age group will be eligible to return the second week of December, but will have to pay for transportation and coaching costs.

“They’re very, very talented children,” said Ron Ganim, who has owned and operated Gymnastics World with his wife, Joan, for 35 years. “They show all the ingredients you can’t measure — the determination, the focus, the willingness to step out of their comfort zone.

“You get to national testing on strength, flexibility and speed. At nationals, they test them again and add the (gymnastics) skills. They can’t be slopped through. They have to be done well.”

Knox, whose coaches at Gymnastics World think has an excellent chance of landing a spot in the top 20 at national testing, started the sport at age 3 with the traditional Mom & Me classes.

“Right away, the coach said, ‘She’s going to be a good gymnast,’” said her mother, Angela, a former gymnast and cheerleader. “I said, ‘How can you tell? She’s doing somersaults.’ ”

That coach proved correct, as Mackenzie Knox has quickly progressed through the sport’s various levels. She trains five days a week for a total of about 24 hours, an endeavor that costs her parents between $400 and $500 a month.

“I have fun at practice,” said Mackenzie Knox, a Montville Township resident whose favorite gymnast is Shawn Johnson. “My goal is to get a college scholarship.”

Ganim, who puts both area youths in the top 5 percent of the “thousands and thousands” of gymnasts he’s trained over the past 3½ decades, said Knox and Corrigan are definitely “on track” for a college scholarships.

“Both kids and their families seem grounded,” he said. “Our expectations are that they give 100 percent, 100 percent of the time they’re here. If they continue doing that, their progress will continue.”

Corrigan, a Medina Township resident whose favorite gymnast is Carly Patterson, likes the sport for an obvious reason.

“It’s fun,” she said. “I like to meet new people and coaches. I like it all.”

Apparently, that wasn’t always the case. Corrigan, who started Mom & Me classes when she was 4, quit gymnastics for about a month when she was 5, but the seasoned veteran quickly realized she wanted to resume training.

“I had to beg my parents to get back in,” she said with a smile.

Corrigan’s motto is now, “Gymnastics is life. The rest is just details.”

“She eats and sleeps gymnastics,” said her mother, Jen Corrigan, whose family also spends $400-500 per month on lessons, meets and various training tools. “She’s always loved it, but she’s even more intense now that she’s tested for TOPs.”

Like most young girls involved in the sport, Knox and Corrigan dream of being on the United States Olympic team and winning gold medals. Their parents, Mike and Angela Knox and Sean and Jen Corrigan, simply want them to enjoy themselves and continue to work hard.

“It’s a fine balance,” Jen Corrigan said. “I don’t want to squash her dream. I’m not going to tell her she’s not going to be in the Olympics, but I’m also very realistic with her.”

Added Angela Knox: “Gymnastics has helped her confidence and self-esteem. In the long run, it will help her in any other sport she might want to try. But right now, this is what she wants to do.”

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rickn@ohio.net.