published Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

14-year-old gymnast to make leap to elite level

  • photo
    Macey Roberts, 14, practices her bar techniques inside of the Gymnastics Center of Chattanooga in Ooltewah, Tenn. Roberts is one of only two Level 10 gymnasts and one of the youngest athletes at the center to compete at her level.
    Photo by Jenna Walker /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Hearing Macey Roberts explain her passion for gymnastics is a bit like receiving a crash course in a foreign language.

Terms like kip cast, Yurchenko layout and Gienger release have been practically ingrained in the 14-year-old’s vocabulary since she began training as a competitive gymnast at age 7.

Macey has competed two years as a Level 10 gymnast, the highest pre-elite level offered by USA Gymnastics. For the last two months, she has been striving to master the skills necessary to pass the elite-level exam, which she plans to take in July or December.

“The [uneven] bars are probably the hardest,” Macey said. “[On] floor and vault, I’m pretty much ready. On beam, there’s only one thing I have to get.”

Mom Wendy Roberts introduced Macey to gymnastics through Razaroos, a mobile gym, when she was 4. The sport provided an outlet for her daughter’s overabundance of energy, she said.

“She would swing from anything and was tumbling on the furniture,” Roberts said, laughing. “I was so concerned she would break something, hurt herself or hurt her brothers. She had a lot of energy in a small body.”

After seeing how quickly Macey acquired skills, Razaroos owner Kimberly Rasmussen suggested enrolling her somewhere that offered competitive training, so Roberts began taking her to Gwinnett Gymnastics Center in Atlanta.

  • photo
    Macey Roberts, 14, chalks her hands in preparation for exercises on the bars inside of the Gymnastics Center of Chattanooga in Ooltewah, Tenn. Roberts is one of only two Level 10 gymnasts and one of the youngest athletes at the center to compete at her level.
    Photo by Jenna Walker /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

In 2004, Roberts opened the doors of her own facility, the Gymnastics Center of Chattanooga. Her daughter has been training there ever since.

Macey spends an average of 32 hours a week in training, even more time than her mother. She divides her seven-hour sessions between acquiring new skills for Level 10 competitions and brushing up on the elite-level routines.

Macey is the only gymnast at GCC currently working toward elite certification. Even if she doesn’t pass the exam, that preparation will benefit her at Level 10 competitions when the season restarts in January, Roberts said.

“There’s a whole training process with the elite program,” she said. “You don’t just walk into elite gymnastics.

“Even if she doesn’t test into the elite program, the elite conditioning and workouts will make her a better Level 10 gymnast.”

During her years of competition, Macey has consistently risen to the top of the field. She has placed highly enough in the state competition to reach the regional competition every year she was eligible to do so. In March, she was ranked first all-around among Level 10 gymnasts in the state.

Of all the trophies and hundreds of medals she has earned, however, Macey said her greatest accomplishment was when she was ranked 11th all-around at the 2009 Level 9 Junior Olympic Eastern Championships in Tupelo, Miss..

Macey’s coach, Adam Byrd, said that with her physical power and the determination to hone it, she stands a good chance of achieving her next dream of pushing through to the elite level.

“What stands out about Macey is that she’s powerful, more so than most other 14-year-old girls,” he said. “[and] when you’re a young gymnast, you’ve got to have that work ethic or drive within yourself because it’s 25 hours or more for some kids.”

Contact Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6205.

CLAIM TO FAME

Macey Roberts, 14, has been competing as a gymnast since she was 7. In 2009, she competed in the eastern nationals in Tupelo, Miss., where she was ranked No. 10 among Level 9 gymnasts. In March, she took first place at the state competition among Level 10 gymnasts and is preparing to test into elite-level gymnastics.

ABOUT HER

-- Age: 14.

-- School: Rising ninth-grader (home-schooled).

-- Favorite subject: Math.

-- Least favorite subject: History.

-- Favorite band: Black Eyed Peas.

-- Gymnastic idol: Shawn Johnson.

TALENT SHOW

Do you know a child age 14 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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