High energy, highly skilled

A lifetime in the gym has 14-year-old Emily Brown ready to compete at a national championship meet against older gymnasts.

Published May 16, 2007

HUDSON - Emily Brown looked up, shocked that her mom had just cut the competition ribbon out of her hair.

Tracey Brown told 7-year-old Emily if she couldn't comply with practice, then she wouldn't participate in the next day's meet. So they went home, where Tracey sent Emily to her room to think about what she wanted.

About 20 minutes later, Emily had an answer. She wanted to go back, and she had a list of 10 reasons why.

Now at age 14, Emily's spirit hasn't faded. She has just harnessed it. Instead of getting kicked out of the gym for misbehaving, which happened twice during her youth, she is pushing the limits of her skills and reaching the national level.

This weekend, Emily will travel to Cincinnati for the Junior Olympic Level 10 National Championships. Emily, a student at Challenger K-8 School in Spring Hill, qualified for the highest level by placing sixth in regional competition in Mississippi last month.

"It was fun," said Emily, who is competing in her first year at Level 10. "You just always want to win so you work harder and harder. It's fun to have people watching you."

She's focused, and she hasn't forgotten many of the reasons on her original list for why she does what she does - namely she loves it. After all, she trains four hours a day. She also wants to make her coaches, and especially her mom, proud of her. Tracey works two jobs at Top Contenders Gymnastics Academy, where Emily trains, to help finance her daughter's dreams.

"I'm just amazed she can do what she does," said Tracey, who first got Emily started as a 3-year-old with Mommy & Me classes at the gym. "She's so graceful. I'm amazed. My heart breaks if she misses something or I'm on cloud nine if she hits."

Emily's favorite event is the vault, but her most confident one is the floor. Coach Elizabeth Strazzullo called Emily's degree of difficulty "phenomenal" because of her tumbling and twisting.

Discipline has been key for Emily. Tracey let her often rambunctious daughter join a team when she was 5 because she thought Emily might be ready. She still had some growing up to do - what 5-year-old doesn't? - but skill-wise, she was fine. Emily went on to claim her first state championship.

"I couldn't believe it," Tracey said. "I just had my mouth open because she was this little tiny thing."

Emily grew up training with older gymnasts, so competing against 18-year-olds in Level 10 doesn't bother her - even on the national scale.

"Emily is a very young at heart kid," Strazzullo said. "To her the Level 10 nationals is just another meet."

That's not to say Emily hasn't been disciplined or didn't work hard to get there. Mike Jacobs, strength and conditioning trainer for the Top Contenders, said Emily has made significant progress in her flexibility and strength. The result, he added, is her success in the meets.

"When a kid is training and you can tell by their effort every day," Jacobs said. "It's not an accident that they're going to do well in competition."

Strazzullo, who has been coaching for 25 years, considers Emily one of the most talented gymnasts she has ever seen.

"She is talented at every event," Strazzullo said. "I would say Emily is one of the best I've ever had."

Kellie Dixon can be reached at kdixon@sptimes.com or 352 544-9480.