published Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

Ten-year-old tumbler leaps into singing

Whether spinning and flipping 20 feet off the ground or staring out on an audience from behind the microphone, Alex Spence has never shied away from a challenge.

“Whenever I do harder stuff, it makes it more fun for me because it works me harder,” Alex said. “I like harder things.”

Alex, 10, has been training as a tumbling and trampoline gymnast since she was 5.

She said she became infatuated with the sport after watching her sister, Ashley, 20, who took up tumbling as a way to improve her skills as a cheerleader.

Her father Jim Spence, said that, although Alex is 10 years younger, she always strove to compete on the same level as her sister.

“That motivated her,” he said. “She was in there with the [Soddy-Daisy High School] cheerleaders and older kids. She wanted to be one of them. She was always pushing to beat them.”

It wasn’t long before Alex reached the same level as many of the older gymnasts and eventually exceeded them.

In 2009, she won first place in the trampoline and double mini events at the Tennessee state gymnastic championship in Knoxville. Her win qualified her to attend the U.S. Junior Olympic Trampoline and Tumbling Championships in San Jose, Calif., where she placed sixth among Level 5 gymnasts in the trampoline event.

Since she was 4, Alex also has been an avid singer. Within days of returning from San Jose, she sang in the 2009 WinniStar youth talent contest at Lake Winnepesaukah, competing right after then-unknown Lauren Alaina Suddeth, this year’s “American Idol” runner-up.

In early 2010, Alex developed chronic ankle sprains, which forced her to take a break from the gym, so she began devoting her energy to pursuing singing competitively.

The Lake Winnie performance was nerve-wracking, but Alex said she’s learned something every time she goes up to the mike.

“It was really, really hard to get up there because my nerves caught up to me,” she said. “[But] when I was done with it, I felt really good I got up there because it just made me feel proud of myself.”

Since then, Alex has performed at Chattanooga’s Got Talent, auditioned twice for “America’s Got Talent” in Atlanta and competed twice at the Times Free Press Kids Talent Search at Riverbend.

As much as she loves singing, Alex said her ankle is feeling better, and she’s ready to return to the mat.

She has approached her former coach, Bob Garner, of Garner’s Gymnastics Center in Hixson, to discuss resuming her training.

Garner said that, unlike traditional gymnastics, tumbling and trampoline gymnastic events are easier on the body, and gymnasts are able to remain competitive at a much older age.

With enough training, Alex has the potential to return to high-level competition in a few years, Garner said.

“I’ve been doing this a long time, and I can tell if someone has the ability to go further with it,” he said. “She’s definitely national-caliber material with another year or two of training in her.”

CLAIM TO FAME

Alex Spence, 10, began training as a gymnast when she was 5. In 2009, she advanced to the U.S. Junior Olympic Trampoline and Tumbling Championships, where she placed sixth at Level 5. The same year, she began singing, including performances on the Kids Talent Stage at Riverbend, auditions for “America’s Got Talent” and Lake Winnepesaukah.

ABOUT HER

  • School: Fifth-grader at Lookout Valley Elementary.

  • Favorite subject: Math.

  • Favorite song: “Never Say Never” by Justin Bieber.

  • Gymnastic idol: Shawn Johnson.

  • Singing idols: Leona Lewis and Alicia Keys.

TALENT SHOW

Do you know a child age 13 or younger with a precocious talent in academics, athletics or the arts? The Times Free Press is searching for children to feature in “Talent Show,” which appears in the Life section on Tuesdays. To nominate a child as a possible subject of a future feature article, e-mail staff writer Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfreepress.com or call him at 423-757-6205.

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...

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