“Both girls beat out some of the best gymnasts from the state from bigger gyms in Grand Junction and Montrose. This is huge for not just the girls, but Craig, because at the level they will be competing at, they have an opportunity for national recognition.”
— Jennifer Vallem, a Craig youth gymnastics coach, on the significance of Trista Crittenden, 8, and Gavyn Cox, 11, qualifying for the Colorado state gymnastics meet June 24 and 25 in Denver
As Trista Crittenden and Gavyn Cox practiced their jumps on the rectangular trampoline Tuesday in the gymnastics studio on Tucker Street, they both had smiles on their faces.
The girls’ coach, Jennifer Vallem, said it wasn’t unusual.
“They can’t sit still for too long,” she said. “They like to move around as much as possible.”
The energy and hard work Crittenden and Cox put in all year long in the gym paid off Saturday in Montrose and gave them a reason to smile.
Crittenden, 8, and Cox, 11, took first and fifth place, respectively, in the Western Colorado Gymnastics meet, which included some of the best young gymnasts in the state.
Their finish earned them a trip to the Colorado state gymnastics meet June 24 and 25 in Denver.
“After I was done, I found out I got first and thought ‘Wow, I beat all those girls,’” Crittenden said. “I felt proud and was excited to accomplish that.”
Crittenden started gymnastics at 3 because her mom told her that she did flips while in the womb.
Plus, she said she really wanted to be an Olympian.
“In gymnastics you have to practice as hard as you can and I think that is real fun,” she said. “A lot of the events, like the (balance) beam, require a lot of skill because you have to do twist and flips and it is really dangerous.”
The meet consisted of vault, balance beam, uneven bars and floor routine.
Cox, however, has a different story than Crittenden.
While competing in preschool, Cox said she was injured and had to give up the sport.
Two years ago, with a better understanding of the sport, she said she wanted to come back.
“I had improved on my tumbling and the splits, so I wanted to try again,” Cox said. “I was really glad to qualify for state because this was my first time competing at a level four difficulty and people usually don’t make it their first time.”
Both Cox and Crittenden performed level four routines for judges in Montrose. The higher the level number, the more difficult the routine is.
The United States of America Gymnastics Junior Olympic committee creates the routines for the first six levels, while level seven to level 10 give the gymnasts the ability to create their own routines.
Cox said the floor routine is her favorite event because she has something extra for the judges — grace.
“I think grace is key because it shows the judges you can do the routine and be pretty and not just tough,” she said. “Some people do the routines and are stiff and don’t have the grace.”
Vallem and her husband, David, coach between 35 and 40 gymnasts in the studio, but only had a competitive team of seven.
The gymnasts range from 5 to 16 years old.
Unlike other sports, Vallem said gymnasts practice from eight to 20 hours every week of the year.
“Before competitions, we will practice every day of the week and then compete on Saturday,” she said. “There are no breaks and they go all year round, so it is pretty intense.”
Vallem said the achievement that Crittenden and Cox accomplished was phenomenal.
“Both girls beat out some of the best gymnasts from the state from bigger gyms in Grand Junction and Montrose,” she said. “This is huge for not just the girls, but Craig, because at the level they will be competing at, they have an opportunity for national recognition.”
After the state meet, the girls will prepare for the USAG Junior Olympics competitions in the fall.
Vallem said the Cox and Crittenden’s success stems from starting at a young age.
“Both girls started when they were young and they come in for many hours every week all year round,” she said. “They are more determined and have more confidence than most girls their age.”
David said he sees a lot of potential in Crittenden and Cox.
“I think they can go a long ways in the sport,” he said. “There are not very many people their age who are at the level they are at. In a couple of years they will be at level seven and eight and eventually they can get to the level 10 they need to be in the Olympics.”
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