CLAIM TO FAME
Earlier this month, Rachel Smith was ranked first in her class at the Atlanta Centennial Classic gymnastics competition. As one of the top Tennessee gymnasts at her competitive level last year, Rachel was invited to the Region 8 Level 7-8 Regional in Tupelo, Miss. She has about 70 medals for reaching the podium in various events.
Name: Rachel Smith.
Grade: Home-schooled fifth-grader.
Favorite subject: History.
Least favorite subject: Science.
Idols: Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson.
Do you know a child age 12 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 423-757-6205.
When Laura Smith enrolled her daughter Rachel at the Tennessee Academy of Gymnastics at age 3, she was hoping to spare the household furniture the abuse of young acrobatic impulses.
After eight years, dozens of competitions and thousands of hours in the gym, Smith said she might have spared the coffee table, but she opened the floodgates.
"I thought [gymnastics] would solve it. I had no idea," Smith said, laughing. "It just made it worse. It's more controlled flipping now."
Rachel, now 11, has been on the competitive team at the Gymnastics Center of Chattanooga for two years. She began competing at TAG five years ago. In that time, she has entered up to eight events each year.
Every week, Rachel spends about 20 hours in the gym. She said gymnastics has made her stronger mentally and physically.
"It makes me more patient because I have to wait since the skills don't come to me easily," she said. "You have to try to keep trying and trying until you can actually get it."
Rachel has taken home about 70 medals and trophies for placing in various events at competitions.
Earlier this month, she won Best All-Around Gymnast in her class at the Atlanta Centennial Classic, one of the first events at which she competed as a Level 8 gymnast (of 10 possible levels).
As one of the highest-ranked athletes in her age group, Rachel was invited last year to represent GCC at the Region 8 regional gymnastics competition in Tupelo, Miss. She said her hope is to rank even higher at this year's state meet so she can compete for Team Tennessee at the regionals, which will be held April 8-10 .
From the beginning, Rachel's gymnastics instructors said they knew she would excel at the sport.
Within months of being placed in the 3-year-olds' class at TAG, Rachel's coach said, she needed to move up to a higher level, so she was enrolled in a course designed to prepare young athletes for the rigors of competition-level gymnastics.
Emily Hubbuch began working with her in the preteam course at TAG and now serves as one of her coaches at GCC. Rachel is built for the sport, Hubbuch said.
"Right off the bat, she had amazing strength and had an amazing attention to detail," she said. "When Rachel does something, she likes to do it exactly right.
"Everything in gymnastics is basically about perfection anyway ... [and] that's where Rachel does very well, working on the straight legs and pointed toes and making things look beautiful."
Although she enjoys gymnastics, Rachel said it doesn't always come easily to her.
For about a year, she was nervous about tackling reverse tumbling exercises such as back handsprings and flips. It was only through concerted effort that she overcame that fear, she said.
"I had to take it out of my mind and mentally overcome it," she said. "You have to learn to do things when you're scared."
Rachel's mother said watching her overcome her fear has been even more rewarding than the dozens of times she has stood on the winner's podium.
"You need confidence to overcome those fears, [and] she has battled with her fears," Smith said. "It's been a long process.
"I think gymnastics has given her definite experiences with how to overcome fear and failure and taught her that when you can't do something, you keep at it."