PENDLETON — The high-flying acrobatics and twisting inversions of gymnastics are best performed with a mind’s eye on the landing pad, not on the physics of the maneuvers. What goes up must come down after all, and landing anywhere but on feet can only end badly.
So it helps to start them out young, said Dr. Gary Stanner, owner and director of Eastern Oregon Gymnastics in Pendleton. By the time gymnasts get old enough to realize the gravity of their daring feats, they usually have a grasp on the basics to keep them safe.
If any fear survived the first whirl on the bars or roll on the mats Thursday during the Gymnastics Christmas Clinic, it was buried beneath smiles and laughs. More than 30 area children took part in Stanner’s free clinic in Pendleton, a wide range of beginners and seasoned gymnasts among them.
Little bare-footed bodies in leotards flooded the practice space, diverging into four or five groups to get their hands on the Olympic apparatuses. Though initially expecting only girls ages 6 to 16, Stanner opened the doors to both boys and girls with most coming on the lower end of the age spectrum.
Stanner estimated about 2/3 of the kids he saw Thursday on the first day of the clinic were new faces to the gym. And young as they may have been, many of the familiar returners were far beyond the novice classification.
Such as girls Jamie Gau, 8, and Riley Kennedy, 7. Both are like young gymnastics veterans, well past the stage of fear as they waited for their turn to try the vault Thursday morning.
Jamie watched her friend Riley take a run at the vaulting horse. Riley planted both hands on the horse and sprung into the air for a forward handspring, the first on the day to complete the trick.
“She’s a brave girl,” Jamie said.
For Riley and Jamie, who became friends through gymnastics even though the two girls attend separate Pendleton area schools, those types of flips are the best part. But both agreed the uneven bars are a bit more exciting than the vault.
“They’re the best. You get to do so many cooler tricks,” Riley said through an uneven grin of missing baby teeth.
Eastern Oregon Gymnastics will continue its two-day clinic today with the gym — located at 1819 Westgate in Pendleton — open for free to young athletes from 9 a.m. to noon. Children may attend the second session without having been present Thursday.
The Christmas sessions mark the first clinic that Stanner has opted for a free-of-charge approach, having previously held similar camps with a minimal fee. With schools still out for the winter break, he said things lined up perfectly for getting the youngsters involved in the sport.
“And I figured I owed Pendleton a payback,” he said jokingly, having coached gymnastics in the town for more than 25 years.
Contact AJ Mazzolini@eastoregonian.com or (541) 966-0839.