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Mon, Sept. 23

Prescott gymnast has golden dreams

Matt Hinshaw/The Daily Courier

Matt Hinshaw/The Daily Courier

Prescott has its very own Olympic hopeful - 14-year-old gymnast Kiersten Graber.

"She has world class gymnastic skill," noted Paul Kahovec, one of her coaches at North Sky Gymnastics in Prescott Valley. "One of her floor moves - a double pike - is exactly what Olympians do."

About five days a week, Kiersten practices in four-hour sessions to perfect her moves. The Olympic order of gymnastics is the vault, uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercises.

Kiersten won first place in floor and vault at the Arizona state competition this past April. She placed second on the balance beam and second all-around. With that, Kiersten qualified as an alternate to represent the Arizona team at the regional competition in California.

At the competition in Long Beach, Kiersten placed second on vault, third on balance beam and third all around.

"I normally get medals, sometimes trophies, and for winning the state and regionals, we get banners that are up on the gym wall," she said. "I have my medals stuffed in my drawer.

Kiersten, who started gymnastics at age 4, is now a Level 9 and can make up her own routine. Her coaches are training her on several new skills.

"She is doing the Yerchenko, which is a different position of the vault," Kahovec said. "On the bars, she is swinging, turning, doing bar to bar movement and a double flip dismount. On the beam, Kiersten is learning a no-handed or aerial cartwheel. Her floor moves include a double pike flip."

"My favorite part of gymnastics is floor," she said. "I can perform with music. The most challenging is the uneven bars. You tend to fall while practicing but that is the whole learning part. It takes coordination and it's tough. You have to work at it hard to become better."

Spending close to 20 hours a week practicing doesn't leave much time for anything else.

"I go to school, go straight to the gym, do my homework and go to bed," she laughed.

During each practice, Kiersten may work with Kahovec or her two other coaches, Heather Davis and co-owner Lynn Murray.

"I give her assignments," Kahovec said. "I may have her do 10 of something and then watch what she does and give her biofeedback on what she does right and wrong."

"Most of my conditioning is done during practice," Kiersten said. "We do 20 different kinds of abdominal exercises, pull ups on the bars, tumbling, squat jumps and climb the ropes to build up arm strength. I also do one- to two-mile runs around my neighborhood."

And yes, Kiersten has had her share of injuries. She had a hairline fracture in her ankle, tendonitis in both knees and a bad neck injury. "No casts or surgery," she said. "I used ice and rest to recover."

Gymnastics keeps you in shape, she said. "It is never really too late to start learning and it is definitely good exercise. It burns off the calories."

"It does take a little bit of a natural gift to do these moves," Davis said. "I think some people are born to be a gymnast."

Kiersten will be helping during the North Sky Gymnastics' first-ever gymnastics competition at Bradshaw Mountain High School during the weekend of Sept. 13-14. About 300 gymnasts from all over Arizona will be attending. For more information, call 759-3435.

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