As millions of young girls huddled around their TV screens this past week, watching the American gymnastics team win gold at the London Olympics, some local girls can relate following their own amazing showing at the 2012 Junior Olympics in Houston, Texas.
Several Hazard gymnasts have been working hard for years to hone their skills under Coach Vernetta Cole, and for Skyanne Slone, her hard work and dedication paid off as she won gold and bronze in the recent Junior Olympics.
Slone, age 9, has been performing gymnastics since she was 18 months old, and throughout the year garnered multiple first place finishes in competitions. When she was only a few months old she was tumbling off furniture and rolling across the floor. Her mother, Tracy Slone, said she just couldn’t get her to stop.
“We wanted her to find something that she really loved,” Tracy said. “At a very young age she was jumping off couches and rolling off couches, and we figured we needed to get her some training to do it properly so she would not get hurt.”
Skyanne started gymnastics before she was out of diapers, and has been in love with it ever since. Her favorite is the floor routines, but she is also accomplished on trampoline. In the 2012 Junior Olympics she brought home the gold in her age group for her floor routine, and the bronze for her work on the double mini trampoline.
She trains with her team at Studios Unlimited and her coach, Vernetta Cole, two hours a week at the National Guard Armory in Hazard. Cole also teaches a class in Jackson, Paintsville, Morehead and Salyersville. Studios Unlimited took 19 gymnasts and made it home with 15 gold medals, 11 silver and five bronze from the 2012 Junior Olympics.
Of the 19 gymnasts who traveled to Texas, 14 of them came from Cole’s class in Hazard. And along with all of the medals, Cole’s group of gymnasts also came home with 10 high point awards. The high point award means that the gymnast or team did better in a given event than anyone else, regardless of age group. Skyanne was a high point winner for trampoline.
The Junior Olympics are run similarly to the Olympics, in that each state sends their best athletes and they become a team.
“Our gym is Studios Unlimited, but our gyms in Kentucky combine to become a state, so we are team Kentucky,” Cole explained.
After all of the competition was over, they averaged every states’ score and Kentucky ranked third in the nation. Of the top 10 on the state team, Studios Unlimited had an impressive number of students.
“Studios Unlimited had five of the 10 for both trampoline and double mini for the state,” said Cole.
Skyanne and her teammates are all working to be the best they can be, and they have some pretty big goals. Skyanne said she was busy watching the Olympics all this week and getting inspired by the performances.
“I am going to plan on going to it,” she said.
While Skyanne is in the gym for only around two hours a week, she and her mother noted that she is training just about all of the time.
“She is always doing cartwheels,” said Tracy. “She is always on the trampoline.”
While Skyanne feels totally comfortable flipping in the air, her parents said that they find themselves a bit more nervous.
“We are the nervous ones,” said Tracy. “She is out there dancing and bouncing around.”
During the qualifying day of the Olympics, USA gymnast Aly Raisman’s parents were microphoned and videoed watching their daughter perform. They nervously grabbed their seats and acted out the routine with their daughter on the floor. The Slones said that they could relate having seen this clip.
“I can relate to that,” said Skyanne’s dad, Dewayne Slone. “It is really an emotional roller coaster.”
The Slones said for them, Skyanne’s dream of being a gymnast is more than just her sport, it is the whole family’s sport.
“It is a family sport,” said Tracy. “You have the moms, dads, brothers, sisters and the friends there.”
It has just become even more of a family sport as Skyanne’s little brother recently had his first practice with Cole and her team at the National Guard Armory.
Skyanne said that she loves going to practice and she hopes to continue. She is planning on making gymnastics an even bigger focus now that she has started competing, though she almost didn’t start this year.
“Her first competition, we started not to even take her,” said Dewayne. “We didn’t think she was ready.”
However, Skyanne and her coach both thought she was ready for the competition, and she was able to prove it to her parents with an amazing first competition in Louisville.
Cole added that she could tell Skyanne would do well competing because of the way she practices, describing her as “self-driving, self-motivated.”
“She is really for that age, kind of a perfectionist,” Cole added.
Skyanne and her family say they are still learning the ropes, but are enjoying the ride that gymnastics and their daughter’s dream have taken them on.
“She is worth it,” said Tracy.