Next up: Level 8 |

Next up: Level 8

Even bad ankles can’t stop Rochelle Johnson.

The 17-year-old’s gymnastic career had gone smoothly for five years as she advanced through the ranks to a Level 7 ability. But her setback from injuries taught her more about the sport and its challenges than any amount of practice could have.

“I had to miss practice and it took me some time to build my confidence back,” she said. “You have to learn again how to not have fear.”

Her ankles brought pain during all three qualifying meets for the Colorado USA Gymnastics state competition this winter. At one meet she re-injured herself on a dismount from the balance beam.

Even with bum ankles, Johnson earned all-around scores that were high enough to qualify for the state meet in two of the three qualifiers.

She earned a 32.5 at a February meet in Grand Junction and a 32 at a meet in Arvada in early March. With four events, a gymnast must average an 8.0 in each to qualify.

Johnson’s highest scores were a 9.05 in the vault and an 8.75 in the floor exercise.

“I’ve got the vault down,” she said.

The state competition will occur during the first weekend in April on the Front Ran-ge.

In preparation for the meet, Johnson said she hopes to let her ankles heal more. Other improvements include making her dance moves on the floor smoother.

“Really, I just want to score higher,” she said.

Higher scores are hard to come by at a state competition because judging is stiffer.

The high school sophomore has two weeks of practice remaining to tighten up her routines.

That means she will drive with her mother, Ellen, five times to Steamboat Springs to practice with her team, the Steamboat Stars.

“There are three girls at my ability there,” she said. “We help each other as much as we can.”

With three half-hour practices and a two-hour round trip three times a week, Johnson invests 18 hours a week in her sport.

“I’d like to spend more time,” she said. “The higher level gymnasts have five-hour practices.”

Johnson is close to being considered a “higher level” gymnast.

With her scores better than 32 this winter, she qualified to move up as a Level 8 gymnast next year. Elite gymnasts compete at Level 10.

“I want to move ahead and learn new things,” she said.

It’s going to take more trips to Steamboat for her to reach her goals, which include becoming proficient in flips.

Soon she will be making the trip by herself.

“She’s driving around here, but not to Steamboat yet,” her mom said.

“I’m just looking forward to driving anywhere,” Rochelle said.

Johnson started her gymnastics career by driving to Steamboat. Her mom drove her there when she was 6 years old for her first lessons.

The toddler didn’t enjoy the trip because, from what her mom guessed, she associated car rides with being taken to live somewhere else.

Rochelle was adopted by the Johnson family from Thailand when she was 4 1/2-years old.

The initial trips to Steamboat only lasted for four or five sessions.

Rochelle became re-interested in the sport in ’99. Since then coaches in Craig and Steamboat have taught her.

Other possibilities may include some trips to Grand Junction, but that isn’t certain.

This summer, Johnson hopes to further her ability by attending a camp.

“I want to go to a really good one,” she said. “I’ve never had that chance.”Ellen said that, with Rochelle’s drive to be better, she sometimes has to remind her daughter to have fun.

“She doesn’t need any outside pressure to do better,” she said. “She has enough pressure inside herself to kill a cow.”

David Pressgrove can be reached at 824-7031 x211 or

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