Boca Raton gymnasts enjoy competition at nationals

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Nina Ballou continues to make her mark in gymnastics.

The Boca Raton teen was one of a dozen American Twisters gymnasts to qualify for the 2021 Women’s Level 10 National Championships in Daytona Beach. The number represented the most competitors in the nation from one gym.

“It was really fun having my teammates there to support me,” said Ballou, 14, who is a West Boca High School freshman. “It wasn’t like I was all alone since I was there for 4 1/2 hours. It was nice and I was able to cheer for them when they were competing. It was a really fun atmosphere.”

Ballou made the most of her nationals debut as she was second in the Junior B Division scoring 9.525 in vault (tied for eighth), 9.650 in bars (8th), 9.425 in beam (13th), and 9.750 on floor (tied for third). She was just behind Alana Walker of the North Stars Gymnastics Academy who scored 38.425 to take the All-Around title.

“I had a lot of confidence going into the meet,” she said. “I think it was because it was my last (meet) of the year. So I wasn’t really that nervous.”

Since she finished in the top-four all-around in the Junior Division, Ballou qualified for the 2021 USA Gymnastics Development Program National Team and attended a July training camp in Indianapolis.

Ballou said the Tokyo Olympics was motivational as well.

“I was glued to the TV watching every routine,” she said. “It was fun to watch them (Olympics) because they didn’t have it last year when they were supposed to have them. It was something nice to watch.

“I was very impressed with (U.S. Olympic silver medalist) Jordan Childs,” Ballou said. “She was amazing and she has never done this well. I knew she is going to make the Olympic team.”

Ballou said she hopes to continue to improve and ultimately earn a college gymnastics scholarship.

“I want to continue to upgrade and work hard,” she said. “I have the determination to get a college scholarship.”

The USA Gymnastics Women’s Development Program National Championships for Level 10 athletes, previously known as the Junior Olympic National Championships, took place at the Ocean Center in Daytona Beach.

All-around and individual event champions were crowned across 12 age divisions spanning junior and senior classifications.

A total of four Boca Raton gymnasts were among the dozen girls from American Twisters to qualify for nationals. Allie Kaempfer finished tied for 18th in the All-Around in the Junior C Division with teammate Tiara Platkin. Hanna Castillo was 30th in the country in the Senior B Division.

Kaempfer, 15, a West Boca High School sophomore, started as a gymnast 11 years ago. She fell on the floor routine but got eighth on both the vault and the bars.

American Twisters gymnast Nina Ballou finished second in the All-Around at the Level 10 Nationals in Daytona Beach.

American Twisters gymnast Nina Ballou finished second in the All-Around at the Level 10 Nationals in Daytona Beach. (Gary Curreri/Contributor)

“It’s really actually pretty funny because I never thought I would get this far doing beginner classes,” Kaempfer said, laughing. “I think my mom regrets putting me in gymnastics when I was little because I fell in love with the sport.

“It is a very difficult sport,” she said. “There are a lot of physics that go along with it and gravity and how fast you are flipping.”

COVID-19 protocols limited the number of spectators at the event, but her teammates came to watch.

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“You do hear when people call out your name, but you are in focus mode and sometimes you block it out,” Kaempfer said. “When you land the skill, you will hear them and realize they are supporting me. The other times I am just focused on the skills and just want to land the skill.

“Nationals was a really fun experience because everyone was still cheering for you and it is a way to get looked at by colleges,” she said. “I do feel pressure sometimes, but I put in on myself…I am happy with the whole thing.”

Many current and former men’s and women’s national team members, including Olympic and World champions, had previously competed in the Development National Championships, the equivalent Junior Olympic National Championships before advancing to the elite level of gymnastics.

“It is an absolute honor and pleasure working with such strong-minded, hardworking young ladies day in and day out,” said American Twisters team head coach Christy Ramirez. “Their hard work paid off and we qualified another 12 girls to nationals. This is the most we’ve qualified and we have done it twice already. We are very lucky to have an amazing program, amazing coaches, and an organization that helps support the team program.”

The event featured both men’s and women’s artistic gymnastics divisions competing simultaneously in a shared venue. Over 600 Level 10 women’s gymnasts and 900 Level 8, 9 and 10 men’s gymnasts competed.

Additional gymnasts from American Twisters who qualified for nationals included Sydney Crouch (Coral Springs), Jessica Naranjo (Coral Springs), Samantha Forman (Parkland), Bella Miller (Coral Springs), Jayla Booker (Coral Springs), Haylen Zabrowski (Parkland), Samara Buchanan (Parkland) and Kielyn McCright (Parkland).

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