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Gymnast can't see the bars, but success is in sight

Julia Goldstein's vision is limited, but her potential isn't as she works harder than most to compete in gymnastics.

© St. Petersburg Times
published June 30, 2002

CARROLLWOOD -- Julia Rose Goldstein can't see the vault at the end of the 60-foot runway. Still, the 11-year-old sprints toward it at full speed.

[Times photo: Mike Pease]
Julia Goldstein, 11, works out with her gymnastics coach Erin Cole at LeFleur's Gym on Friday.
She can't see the balance beam or the parallel bars or the mat when she dismounts each apparatus. But she feels her way and competes in each event at LeFleur's Gym.

Julia, who has limited vision in one eye, is legally blind.

"Julia has never said she couldn't try a new routine because she could not see nor used sight for an excuse," says her coach, Erin Cole. "She will admit she is nervous, or even scared, when first learning a routine or getting used to a new apparatus in a meet. But she will always work harder than others until she gets control of each situation."

For Julia, gymnastics is not just another obstacle in her semidark world. It provides her a training ground to develop courage and confidence to face many other obstacles in her life.

Often, she arrives at the Anderson Road gym before her level 5 teammates and sometimes she works another hour or more after they leave. Julia meticulously counts steps to the springboard in front of the vault, diligently practices mounting and dismounting the bar and beam.

"Every time I overcome fear in the air when I cannot see a bar that I must grab or touch a board I can barely see until I am right on it, I gain more confidence in myself for other areas of my life," she says.

Born with cataracts and glaucoma in both eyes, Julia underwent surgery when she was just 2 weeks old. She got glasses before her first birthday and has worn them ever since.

The Country Place preteen, who will be an eighth-grader at Walker Middle School in the fall, has limited sight, and only in her left eye. Yet she is an achiever in the gym and the classroom, making all A's and B's.

"I carry a very small computer to class so I can take notes," she says. "Before I study, I print out my notes and enlarge them so I can read them with my special glasses. I also have special glasses that help me a little in gymnastics. They have frames that I can bend around my ears to train or compete."

Although hardship is a term others might use describe her situation, Julia wins challenges on a daily basis; failure and surrender are not part of her vocabulary, or her mindset.

"Julia never uses excuses for anything," says her mom, Terri Goldstein. "She will always work harder than others, because she doesn't know what she can't do."

That determination sometimes worries Mrs. Goldstein.

Any trauma to Julia's brain could destroy what precious little vision she has. Pressure on the brain from a roller coaster, her gymnastics routines, or even swimming are potential threats the family regularly copes with.

"We have pretty much put sad feelings and fears into a box," Mrs. Goldstein says. "We want to help her keep what sight she has but we have told her doctors we are not just dealing with a pair of eyes, but a whole child.

We don't want to watch over her so tightly that we take away her childhood," says the proud yet practical mom.

Julia recently moved up to Level 5 competition. Now she faces another physical challenge: the parallel bars.

At 4 foot 8 and 72 pounds, she is learning how to locate bars she often can't see. Plus, her body length is 4 inches shorter than the 5-foot distance between the bars.

Even though she can't see the apparatus well or judge the distance to the floor, she's confident she'll conquer the challenges.

"I can't explain how, but I have learned to feel where I am and complete my routines," Julia says. "It works for me."

Being on the LeFleur's team and practicing hard isn't enough for Julia. She likes besting her fully able opponents.

"She does what she has to do to overcome tough opposition," Cole says. "Last year at Level 4 in her age group, she placed second best all around in the state championships and won first-place on the bars.

"As a matter of fact, she won the bars championships in five of six tournaments last season," Cole says. "She is a great competitor who asks for no special considerations."

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