Silverthorne Storm Gymnastics pairs young, talented locals with veteran coaches (photos and video) | SummitDaily.com

Silverthorne Storm Gymnastics pairs young, talented locals with veteran coaches (photos and video)

There's a storm a-brewin' in Silverthorne.

This weekend, more than 115 youth gymnasts from across Colorado converge on the Silverthorne Recreation Center for two days of flipping, tumbling, handspringing and more for the first (and only) home meet of the season, hosted by the Silverthorne Storm Gymnastics team.

On Friday afternoon — the first day of competition — the energy was palpable in the big, bright gymnasium, where head coach Ben Way and his small crew of assistant coaches had replaced the usual basketball and volleyball equipment with beams and lashings and pads for a gymnast's four core disciplines: vault, uneven bars, floor exercise and balance beam.

On all sides of the gym, from ground-level bleachers to folding chairs on the second-level track, parents (mostly moms) sat and waited for competition to begin. Some watched the open practice intently, others played on their cell phones, still others laughed and chatted with fellow parents about makeup and hairspray and the intricacies of gymnastics uniforms.

Smack in the middle of the hardwood, Way was busy wrangling up the 35 young girls on his three competition teams. He's been doing this for 17 years and has the circus of a home meet down to a science. Like any good coach, he knows every girl by name, from 7-year-old beginners to 14-year-old veterans, and he's been working with most since they were toddlers in his year-round tumbling classes. Each one of the Storm athletes competes in every discipline, Way says, because that's just the way youth gymnastics works: before honing in on a specialty, everyone learns everything, like ski club snowboarders who compete in boardercross, slopestyle and halfpipe before finding their one, true love.

"A lot of kids up here like to do extreme things and you learn to roll and fall with gymnastics," Way said a few days before the meet. "I've had gymnastics save my life in a few situations, like when I'm climbing up rocks and suddenly they start moving. It makes you agile."

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With about an hour to go before competition, the Storm crew was rotating between each apparatus with three invited teams from the Front Range: Thornton, Broomfield and Apex of Arvada. Between practice runs, small pods of girls dressed in black, gold, green, blue, purple and silver talked excitedly about the upcoming Summer Olympics and the powerhouse U.S. team, listing off names like Aly Raisman, Kyla Ross and, of course, 2012 overall gold medalist Gabby Douglas, who was just two years older than the oldest Storm gymnasts when she won in London.

"We're ready for a big surge this year because it's an Olympic season," Way said. "Last time around we had a big surge and had to make new classes, but this time will be interesting. We're already at capacity."

Big year for gymnastics

Heather Ferley knows well the power of an Olympic season. In 1996, when Kerri Strug and the Magnificent Seven went down in history like their 2012 counterparts, Ferley was a first-year gymnast on the Storm team. Way was her coach, and, after watching the U.S. team dominate for the first team gold in history, she was hooked.

"It was the 1996 Olympics and I knew that I wanted to go there some day," said Ferley, a 26-year-old Summit County native who learned the basics with Way and the Storm before honing her skills with Windsor Gymnastics just south of Fort Collins. She dropped out of the competitive gymnastics scene shortly before college — like many, she was feeling the full effects of an insanely intense training regimen — and, after a few years off the mat, started to miss her sport.

"I left the sport as a high-level gymnast," Ferley said. "I was burnt out when I got to college. I'd done it for 11 years, said I wasn't a fan of it anymore, and then halfway through college said, 'Damn, I should have done this.' But my body was just too tired by then."

Ferley couldn't stay away for long. Shortly after graduating from University of Northern Colorado, she returned to her hometown to be a ski instructor at Breckenridge and immediately tracked down her first gymnastics coach.

"I remember at my interview thinking, 'I know this guy,'" said Ferly, who's in her fourth year coaching the Storm. "And of course he remembered me. Coaches never forget."

Like many youth sports in Summit County, gymnastics often gets placed on the back burner in favor of outdoor activities: skiing, mountain biking, kayaking. But it doesn't need to be so. Way, who admits he was often picked last for baseball and basketball as a kid in Minnesota, says that trying gymnastics in middle school not only made him a better athlete — it also boosted his confidence for, well, everything.

"I was destined to be a frustrated athlete, and then I got on a trampoline and landed a front flip the first time," Way said. "That's all it took."

Way's assistant coaches agree. After going cold turkey for a few years, Ferley couldn't wait to begin coaching again with her old team. She loves watching her girls progress and improve and, above all, have a blast.

"This gymnastics (team) is a lot more relaxed and laid-back than what I was used to," Ferley said. "It's about learning new things. I like to keep the magic alive for me and for them, and as long as you have that it can be fun. It's fun for me again."

Back to the floor

For Ferley's fellow assistant coach, former gymnast Rachel Miller of Tennessee, fun comes with progression. Right before the start of competition, the two were helping their girls run through routines on the uneven bars. Ferley would help the girls mount and watch form, while Miller acted as a spotter on technical inversions and transfers.

"I love this sport and I love passing this on to the next generation," said Miller, who also teaches aerial silk courses at the Breckenridge Recreation Center. "It's always great to see the kids grow and improve and get excited when they learn new things. They're getting stronger and better every day."

And they're well on their way to competing at the state level. The home meet is the third of the season, and all 35 girls have at least two more meets to hone their skills before the end of the summer season. The U.S. team might not be in their future — the odds are astronomical — but that hardly matters. For the coaches, parents and young gymnasts, the only thing that matters this weekend is the next routine, where, maybe, they land a clean handspring. It's better than gold.

"I love watching the girls overcome their mental obstacles because it is such a mental sport," Ferley said. "When I'm coaching, I know that I can get on the same level as the girls. They can trust me — I won't force them to do something they aren't ready for. These girls just jump up and down when they learn a new skill, and I remember how excited I used to get when I was that level."

Silverthorne Storm Gymnastics home meet

What: The only home meet of the Storm summer season, with more than 120 youth gymnasts from four teams competing in all four disciplines: uneven bars, balance beam, floor exercise and vault

When: Saturday, June 25 at 9 a.m.

Where: Silverthorne Recreation Center, 430 Rainbow Drive in Silverthorne

Cost: Free for spectators

The event is free and open to the public, with competition from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Awards are held at 12:15 p.m. for compulsory athletes and 4:15 p.m. for optional athletes. Flash photography is not allowed. For more info on the team, including summer tumbling classes for children and toddlers, call the rec center at (970) 262-7370 or see the website at http://www.silverthorne.org.