Chalk coated the floors and equipment at the Wisconsin Dells Center on a Saturday in late January, where 11-year-old gymnast Lexy Ramler—one of the youngest competitors at the meet—danced nervously as she waited for her turn on the uneven bars.
Lexy is a rising-star Minnesota gymnast who trains exclusively in Winona. She is in her first season as a level 10, the highest designation for an individual below the elite program that funnels gymnasts into, among other teams and competitions, the Olympics.
The road ahead is highly competitive and long. But for Lexy, whose life has revolved around gymnastics since she was little, experience is still what counts most.
When Lexy was 4 she first watched gymnastics on television. Six months later she was enrolled in her first program. Her mother, Marlene, called gymnastics Lexy's preschool education.
“It was just so much fun to watch,” Lexy said. “I tried out other sports, but I preferred gymnastics. You got to flip and do what other kids couldn’t do.”
“I just loved it, and I had so much fun doing it and I wanted to do more and excel,” she said.
When she turned 7, Lexy began to compete in USA Gymnastics, the country's sole organization that governs the sport and selects competitors for national teams. Up until the 2010-11 season, Lexy attended public school in her hometown of St. Michael, a western Twin Cities suburb, and trained at St. Paul's Hamline University in the evenings with Head Coach Doug Byrnes. She enjoyed working with Byrnes, but as her commitment grew she sought a coach who had the ability to provide a part-time job's worth of regular instruction.
Now she trains full-time in Winona under Rob Murray, the head coach at KidSport Gymnastics Training Center, who she had worked with periodically over the last three years. She trains between 20 and 25 hours each week, both one-on-one with Murray and as part of a team. Sometimes she gets tired of working on different skills, she said, but continues on, knowing the practice will only help her improve.
“She is very talented and she has a lot of drive,” said Murray, who has coached gymnastics for over 25 years. “And—it is key—she has the support of her family,”
That support is clear.
While Lexy technically lives with her parents in St. Michael, she's more permanently in Winona than anywhere else. She and her mother (her father, Brad, stays in St. Michael where he works as a carpenter) drive the three hours to Winona and live in town Monday through Friday in a rented one-bedroom apartment.
Lexy started taking sixth-grade classes online to work around her gymnastics schedule. She said she misses the social aspect of public school, but likes how she can now complete class work when she has the time.
In competition, Lexy has already reached a score of 33.75--an overall score for all four events; the highest score available is a 10 on each individual event--which qualifies her for this year's USA Gymnastics state meet, the first step in a road she hopes will lead to her ultimate dream: Competing in the 2016 Olympics.
“She has a training approach that makes a goal like that a possibility,” Murray said, though he acknowledged the challenge: Just six gymnasts from across the country are selected for the team every four years.
As Lexy rode home from the Wisconsin Dells competition, crammed in the back seat with her sixth-place medal still around her neck, she began to text her friends. The topic: Gymnastics.
“It is always nice to be friends with another gymnast,” said Lexy, about her best friend Elizabeth, a Level 9 gymnast. It means not having to explain all the small details of gymnastics that excite her but regularly cause her non-gymnast friends to ask her what she's talking about.
After firing off a series of messages, she put her phone down and picked up a laptop from the car floor where it rested next to her gymnastics-themed Barbie. As her mother fell asleep and Murray piloted the car back to Winona, Lexy played a video game, a rare distraction and pleasure after a successful competition.