Most high school athletes are the same: As they juggle schoolwork, practices, games and other extracurricular activities, the focus is on them to balance their lives.
But top-tier athletes are placed on a different podium.
They usually have the same schedules, but they also have to shoulder the extra expectations and burdens of success and failure – mainly because their chances of going to their preferred college might depend on it.
Junior Gina Twenge, a gymnast at Mt. Spokane, is one of the best in the region.
Her current head coach at Mt. Spokane, Dana Trantum, first saw Twenge on the mats as a toddler and knew she was special.
“You can spot a gymnast. She just showed a natural body awareness, strength and flexibility,” Trantum said. “She was probably 5, just jumping from one bar to the other. She just did it with natural technique and grace that you just can’t teach.”
Twenge began gymnastics when she was 2 and has been tumbling, vaulting and balancing since.
Twenge took fourth place in all-around at Western Nationals in Boise three years ago when she was an eighth-grader at Mountainside Middle School.
She was a club-first gymnast her whole life, but her mindset started to change when she got to Mt. Spokane a year later.
“I figured high school gymnastics would be more relaxing and laid back and just not as stressful,” Twenge said. “So, I just made the decision to go to high school gymnastics and I’m really glad that I did. It has been a great experience.”
After almost 13 years, Twenge’s priorities shifted and she bowed out of club.
She didn’t want her life to be centered around gymnastics – she wanted to experience high school and put herself in a better position to succeed long term, physically and mentally.
“Honestly, the most impressive part about Gina and her gymnastics is her ability to stand up for what she wants out of the sport,” Trantum said. “She could have easily been persuaded by coaches or parents or just the pressures of staying in the sport. But it’s a hard, hard sport to do year-round like that constantly.”
As a member of the Wildcats, she has continued to grow inside and outside the gym.
In 2019, as a sophomore, Twenge took second place in all-around in the State 3A/2A/1A meet.
After years of concentrating on individual goals, Twenge has been thrust into a leadership role for the Wildcats.
“To watch her become a leader not just for herself but for the others has been amazing,” Trantum said. “And to watch her transform into a true teammate and doing things for the team, and supporting her teammates and even coaching her teammates on the sidelines.”
Twenge has leaned on her experience to help the greener gymnasts.
“I would say I try to take what I’ve learned from gymnastics and reach out to help them with whatever problems they are going through with gymnastics, because it’s very mentally draining and difficult,” Twenge said.
Twenge has reflected on her decision to step away from the rigors of club, and she thinks it was the best decision she could have made.
“Yeah, 100 percent. Mentally, club was just very straining,” Twenge said. “It definitely more mentally than physically challenging, honestly.”
She had supportive parents and coaches behind her all the way, knowing that after 12 years of gymnastics, the decision had to be a difficult one.
It has allowed her to try other sports like track and field, spend more times with friends and family and focus on having fun with her high school teammates.
The shifts aren’t surprising. Gymnastics for most high school girls is about fun and scratching the competitive itch.
The chances of earning a college scholarship through high school gymnastics are slim, Trantum said.
According to USA Gymnastics, the NCAA – across all three divisions – only had approximately 256 scholarships to give out per year for collegiate gymnastics.
Add in the physical wear of being in the gym consistently and the decision to have fun at the high school level becomes more appealing.
“I think it’s just wear and tear on a girl,” Trantum said. “You know, the girls come in with sore backs and ankles that puts a toll on the body.
“I don’t have a single girl that doesn’t pay a price as far as aches and pains. But at the same time, they’re gymnasts and they just get through it.”