The mentality to be a sucessful gymnast
Gymnastics is one of the hardest sports, physically and mentally, an athlete can do.
Hailey Smith, 13, is thriving as a gymnast and shows nothing but promise. The Culver native has had a bit of obstacles, but wasn't down for long, overcoming a shattered growth plate in her knee.
Five years ago, when Hailey was 8, she taught herself to do somersaults, back bends, handstands, cartwheels, walkovers and roundoffs, but her parents feared that as Hailey continued of try more complicated skills, she would hurt herself without proper guidance.
On Christmas Day, Hailey received a gift that would change her life — gymnastics lessons at the Redmond Gymnastics Academy.
"When I was younger, I always loved to be upside down, doing flips and stuff," Smith said. "I always found it fun and for Christmas I was able to get lessons here (Redmond Gymnastics Academy). Each year, every level gets harder and I just found more joy in it every year."
In 2014, Hailey went to her first lesson and was hooked. Her goal soon became to make the Redmond Gymnastics Girls team. Her goal soon became a reality, but her journey was just starting.
Being part of the gymnastics team, Hailey had to learn four different events: vault, uneven bar, balance beam and floor exercises. During a mock event at practice, Hailey did so well that her coaches decided to bump her up from the beginning level three to level four.
In 2015, at level four competition, her coaches told her not to be disappointed if she didn't do so well because of her lack of experience. She arrived to her first meet with a cold and fever, but it didn't stop her from giving it her all.
Her scores were so good, though, that she won the all-around champion for her age division and qualified for state on her very first competitive meet.
She continued to place at numerous meets, and in April 2015, at the Oregon state meet, Hailey placed third for her age.
In 2015/16, Hailey was at level five at her gym and placed fourth at the Oregon State meet. At level five, she quickly learned how competitive and harder things were getting. Everyone was just as determined and dedicated as Smith.
The 2016-17 season saw Hailey skip level six and move to level seven competition. This was a big deal because now gymnasts perform individual routines for the floor and beam.
On Thanksgiving break, while Hailey was practicing her floor routine, she landed hard on a tumbling pass. She landed so hard it shattered her growth plate in her left knee and she could not put weight on her leg for 12 weeks.
"There has been a lot of mental blocks, but my coaches and teammates have really helped me overcome them," Smith said. "I did a flip, landed on my knee and fractured my growth plate. It wasn't easy because all I wanted to do was be at the gym. I tried to condition as much as I could."
"The recovery part was probably the hardest," she said. "I was back in the gym watching all my teammates do so well, where I was struggling to get back to where I was. I just worked as hard as I could and eventually rose back up."
"Doing the same skills I injured myself on, had me terrified," said Smith. "It lasted a couple months of me being afraid I was going to get injured again."
This was a real test for Hailey as she had been consumed with practices and performances. Hailey practices four times a week, for four hours a day, all year around. Certainly a lot for any young girl, especially one who currently has a 4.0 GPA at Culver Middle School.
"I just try really hard in school and the gym is not really work for me. I really enjoy it here," said Smith. "This is definitely a challenge, especially as the levels get harder, but still a lot of fun."
Being in crutches for so long, Hailey was starting to feel like a normal sixth-grader, but refused to stop working towards her dreams and goals. She did intense workouts at home to make sure the rest of her body was getting toned, doing exercises that did not require the use of her leg.
She even convinced her dad to install a chin-up bar to strengthen her upper body and keep up with her conditioning. She was strengthening everything, but her injured knee and was ready to return to action.
Her coaches were careful in Hailey's return, not pushing her and keeping her at a very slow pace. Hailey missed most of her level seven competition, but was still determined to make state in March.
In her first competition back, she could only compete in three events because of her injury and could not qualify for state. Her second meet was just as frustrating as she did not have high enough scores to make it to state.
With her perseverance and dedication, Hailey was able to qualify for state on her third competition back from injury. For Hailey and her coaches, making it to state after recovering from her injury was a big accomplishment.
Even though Hailey did not compete at level seven very much, her coaches still thought she had the talent to be at level eight during her last season. Hailey took the challenge and was very motivated, but learned quickly level eight was no joke.
She went from placing at all her events, to hardly making the platform at any of the meets. She was having trouble scoring high in her uneven bar performances. She kept working hard and to qualify for state she needed a total score of 32. She had incredible floor scores, which helped her qualify for state once more.
Now that she was at level eight, Hailey could now qualify for regionals. Only levels 8-10 are able to qualify for regionals. Hailey must have a score of 34 or better and be in the top number of girls to be selected.
Hailey went into state and nailed both her bar routine and vaults, the two she had the most trouble with. She scored the highest she has ever and managed to qualify for regionals.
Regionals were held in the Tacoma Convention Center and featured the best gymnasts from Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Alaska and Hawaii.
On April 14-15, Hailey rose to the occasion once again. With a personal best scores on her vault routine, earning a medal at regionals, placing eighth.
Hailey, now 13, is repeating level eight for her upcoming competition and is looking to reach another goal, making it on the all-star regional team.
"My goals are to get back on top of the podium again," Smith said. "I want to keep having fun while enjoying myself, not pushing myself too hard to the point where I injure myself again. I would really like to do gymnastics in college that is where my mindset is right now. Make it through high school and hopefully get a scholarship."