ATASCADERO — The Thrive Gymnastics Training Center sent four girls to the Region 1 Championships last month in Chandler, Arizona, after a unique year of training and preparation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Athletes Erika Matthews, Kiana McCrea, Sachiko Zemke and Lillian Kaschahare received qualifying scores and attended one of the strongest Regionals despite the challenging year full of stops and starts.

COVID-19 not only took away the girl’s chance at a Regional tournament in 2020 but also presented a whole new set of challenges as the girls prepared for 2021.

“It was about a month and a half of conditioning straight just to get them back to where they could start doing gymnastics again,” Raleigh Carter, coach, and co-owner of Thrive Gymnastics, said. “Their bodies need to get reacclimated before we could really train.”

Not only did the pandemic force the gym to shut down for an extended period, but when they were finally able to open them once again, they would have to close them again periodically as SLO County played hopscotch with the different colored tiers of the pandemic.

Getting through this together, Atascadero

While gymnastics seems to be all about the vault, bars, beam, and floor and learning different ways to soar through the air and somehow stick a landing, it is really about so much more. Before an athlete can even begin to fathom a backflip onto a four-inch-wide beam or launching themselves into the air with a spring-loaded assist, they must first find a way to control their fears.

“Our goal [this year] couldn’t be, let’s get this score because we didn’t have enough momentum,” Carter explained. “So, our whole season has been built around ‘How do you want to get better as a person?’ and what personal things do you want to improve on. We tell them that success only exists because failure exists. Let’s not look at COVID as a setback; let’s look at it as an opportunity to find success. How are we going to overcome it? What is our next pathway to overcome it? That is what we do every single day. You are afraid of the beam; why? What is your step process to overcome your fear? It then bleeds into every aspect of their life.”

This season with the physical aspect of gymnastics taken out of the equation so many times, Thrive and their athletes took the time to work on themselves and personal growth. The girls responded by earning a spot in Regional Championships, including California, Nevada, and Utah.

“I would say that this season, especially being out of the gym for two months and then coming back and not really knowing what the future was going to hold, it was kind of a nice time to be in the gym and just work on skills that I didn’t necessarily need to be putting into a routine,” McCrea told the Atascadero News. “I learned about myself. That is in and out of the gym as well because I have to come in and think about gymnastics and then leave thinking about whatever else is going on in my life, but as soon as I walk in the door, it’s gym, and that’s what I’m working on.”

With the Gymnastics season now over and life slowly but steadily returning to normalcy, the girls have already begun their training for next season and have continued to build on the lessons and perspective gained this year.

Thrive Gymnastics has locations in both Atascadero and Paso Robles, and those interested in joining or finding more information can go to Thrivegym.org.