Student gymnast leaps towards world competitions

Felicia Solazzo, Staff Writer

Eighth-grader Mattie Shaw has dedicated her life to gymnastics, and now strives to compete worldwide.

“At the moment, I’m a Level 9 gymnast. It’s up to me and my coach to decide what level I’m in,” Shaw said. “My coach says as long as I continue to do good at state and regional competitions, I can move up.”

April Shaw, Mattie’s mother, placed her daughter in gymnastics classes at Tumbleweeds when she was 14 months old.

“I am a physical therapist, and my job requires me to work with children. As a physical therapist, it is evident that over the decades, children are developing at a slower pace because this generation is always sitting – whether kids are watching TV or sitting in a car seat,” April Shaw said. “I knew as a P.T. that this was a serious problem, and as soon as I had children, I placed them in gymnastics so they would develop faster.”

By the age of 7, Mattie was entering competitions.

“My strengths are beam and floor — that’s where I usually score best at competition,” Shaw said. “These events require a lot of dance, and since dance is a big part of my family, I place well in these areas.”

State and regional gymnastics competitions require traveling to different cities. In 2010, Mattie placed first all around at her state meet in Daytona Beach. That same year, she made it to regionals, which were held in Tupelo, Miss.

“Competition season is held during the weekends of January through March. We spend eight to nine weekends in different cities throughout Florida during the season,” April Shaw said.

As a gymnast, Mattie faces a busy schedule. Monday through Friday she has practice from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., with occasional Saturday practices if needed.

“As a gymnast, you pretty much dedicate your whole life to being in the gym,” Shaw said. “I miss a lot of school events or hanging out with friends because I’m always at practice.

Mattie’s schedule not only affects her life, but also has an impact on the rest of the family.

“The schedule is a huge challenge. I take Mattie right after school to the gym, and the last thing I do at night is pick her up,” April Shaw said. “As a result, the family never has dinner before 8:45 p.m.”

The schedule has become an even greater issue since April Shaw started coaching the school dance team.

“On game nights when dance team performs, I have to have my husband or my mother pick her up from the gym and bring her to West Shore,” Shaw said.

Though the sport is strenuous and the schedule is demanding, Mattie plans to pursue her talent and passion in the future.

“I either want to go to UF, UCLA, or Georgia for college gymnastics. I also would like to get to the elite level so I can enter international competitions,” Shaw said. “I love gymnastics, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”