Gymnastics: Tumbleweeds script their own storybook season
by Joey Crandall
It’s the kind of story that could have easily been lifted off of the movie screen or stripped right out of the pages of a triumphant Cinderella story.
But for three Carson Valley girls, the recent Nevada State Gymnastics Championships marked the culmination of an improbable whirlwind ride to the top.
Jenny Ferrara, 13, and Maddy Gilbert, 12, both of the Gardnerville Gymnastics Tumbleweeds competitive team, claimed state titles in the floor exercise and Cori Craig, 11, posted a personal-best score of 33.975 in the all-around to wrap up a particularly impressive weekend for the squad.
None of the Tumbleweeds’ gymnasts had ever set foot on the mats for competition before December.
“The judges kept whispering about how great the Tumbleweeds girls were,” coach Casie Warren said. “They were awed by their abilities, especially on the floor.
“We were so excited with how well they did. We’ve just been completely blown away this whole season.”
The Tumbleweeds’ gym, which has been open in the Gardnerville Ranchos for the last four years, began fielding an exhibition team three years ago but there was never any intention to delve into competition.
“We’ve been working so hard the last few years, but we really tried to stay away from competition because we wanted the girls to have a positive outlook on gymnastics,” Warren said. “But these girls were so awesome. They started completely exceeding our expectations for the program, so we knew we had to go for it.”
The team, which boasts only a handful of gymnasts on any given day, began turning heads immediately at its first competitive meet – Reno’s SpringFest – in late December.
Ferrara took first in the Level 5 all-around, complete with first places in the vault and the beam, a second in the floor exercise, and a third on the bars.
Gilbert took third in the Level 4 all-around, second in the vault, third in the bars and fifth in the floor and the beam.
Craig, who had been recovering from a broken arm suffered earlier in 2004, took 11th in the all-around.
In the following months, the Tumbleweeds continued to impress with their performances at competitive meets around the West coast and got to work with a number of top-level gymnasts, including the Stanford University gymnastics team.
Pitted against 24 other gyms at the state championships, which amounted to about 400 athletes, the Tumbleweeds refused to slow down.
Ferrara took third in the all-around, while Gilbert scored a 9.0 on the vault and a 9.225 in the floor exercise.
“I was very nervous,” Ferrara, who has been in gymnastics for three years, said. “There were a lot of people watching. My coaches told me to just focus on getting the routine done and shutting everything else out.”
It was several hours before Ferrara found out how she’d done.
“We’re not allowed to look at our scores after we complete a routine, because if it’s really good then we’ll get over-excited and if it’s really bad, then we will feel bad about ourselves during our next event,” said Ferrara, who hopes to earn a college scholarship to Stanford or Michigan someday. “We only find out at the end of the day.
“They have this big ceremony, and I heard my name called. Wow, I was just really excited. There were a lot of people I had to compete against, and I was surprised.”
The Tumbleweeds wrap up their season with a final meet in the Bay Area in late April, and then will focus on training for the upcoming fall season and performing in exhibitions around the Valley.
“That’s how we started, as an exhibition team,” Warren, who co-coaches the team with Jen Weirauch, said. “We didn’t want to get away from that. If something is going on in town, we try to be a part of it. We do exhibitions all through the summer.”
The team will be hosting a large rummage this weekend to try to help offset some of the extensive costs of maintaining the fledgling team. The sale begins at 7 a.m. Sunday at the lot by Coffee on the Main at 1572 Highway 395 in Minden and will run through 2 p.m.
“These girls are so talented and will have a big future in gymnastics,” Warren said. “We need all the support we can get. The only financial support we receive is through fund-raising.”
Athletes on the team put in anywhere from two to 12 hours a week at the gym, depending on the competition level.
“During practice we do about an hour to an hour and a half of conditioning, strength training and flexibility training.
“We like to have a strong skill base before we put it all together in the routines.”
Warren said the team will step up its workouts during the summer, so as to better prepare for the coming season. The team will also travel to the Woodward Gymnastics Camp in Pennsylvania to work with Olympians and some of the top gymnasts in the world.
She said the team would welcome any athletes who would be interested in working out with them. However, she warns it takes a lot of hard work.
“We have strict guidelines,” Warren said. “Mostly we go by the amount of dedication the kids show. We have a lot of fun, but it is really hard work.
“I always tell the girls that it has nothing to do with talent or body type. It’s the hours you put in and how bad you want it. Perseverance comes before strength, flexibility, talent or skill.
“It is such an amazing sport. The amount of toughness and drive you need to be a gymnast is incredible.”
For more information on the team, or about the Gardnerville Tumbleweeds Gymnastics & Cheer program, call 265-9496 or visit http://www.tumbleweedsforkids.com. The gym is located at 811 Short Court B, next to Pizza Factory in the Ranchos.
— Joey Crandall can be reached at email@example.com or at (775) 782-5121, ext. 212.