May 6, 2008
Tifton -- Three Gymnasts from the Dream It Gymnastics center in Tifton will be competing on a national stage this week, as senior Merritt Johnson, sophomore Kristen deJong, and seventh-grader Beth Roberts compete in the USA Gymnastics Level 9 Eastern Championships in Dayton, Ohio.
Head Coach Elena Pankratova says, "It's really an honor to go to this competition. The girls work all year long, and to qualify for this meet, they have to work really hard."
The gymnasts practice for close to 20 hours a week, with just one week off all year for summer vacation.
With all that, and schoolwork, Lee County senior Merritt Johnson says it can be tough to balance.
"I have to manage my time wisely, with homework and gymnastics," says Johnson. "Most of the time I study on the way over here, and study on the way back."
Pankratova says, "They have one vacation for Fourth of July. We even work a little in Christmas vacation. It's basically the whole year long."
Coach Pankratova says seeing Johnson make to nationals for the first time in her senior year is a thrill.
"This was the happiest moment in my life, because she worked so hard to make this competition," says the Russian coach. "She has more heart than anybody, and she put that heart into this gym, and into gymnastics, and I am very happy for her. She really deserves this."
"We put everything into this," says Johnson, "but making it to nationals, it paid off, all my hard work."