Nine Harlem student gymnasts will take their talent to Fort Worth, Texas this weekend to compete at the USA National Championships.
After a number of local competitions, the state competition and the regional competition, three boys, one young man and five girls, ages 8 to 20, from the Wendy HIlliard Gymnastics Foundation (WHGF) plan to compete in the National Championships.
WHGF was founded in 1996 by Hall of Fame Rhythmic Gymnast Wendy Hilliard to provide free and low-cost gymnastics for urban youth. Hilliard was also the first African-American to represent the U.S. in over 15 foreign countries and three World Championships. The gymnasts at WHGF are local Harlem residents between the ages of 8 and 20 and will compete in Trampoline and Tumbling, levels five to seven.
This is the first Trampoline and Tumbling National competition for the nine athletes and Hilliard said all she hopes is that they will do their best.
“The achievement of going and knowing they’ve trained and they got there that is really our first step and that makes me very proud,” Hilliard said.
The team is coached by British National Competitor Stacie Mitchell who is excited for the nine of them to experience a national competition.
“They get to travel as a team, yet again, but actually fly and go to a whole new state and be around gymnasts and meet gymnasts from the other states,” she said. “It is always beneficial for them to meet and see other kids and see what else is out there because it makes them see how much they need to work or how much they have worked to get where they are.”
For some of the athletes, this is their first time on a plane and that can be more nerve-racking than the competition itself.
“I’m more nervous about the plane,” said 9-year-old Taraya Alexander.
Alexander is excited to go to Texas and do her best to win gold.
Ten-year-old WHGF student Bailey Mensah, who is also Hilliard’s son, started gymnastics when he was three or four and started competing when he was six.
“I like the flipping part because I’m kind of a show-off and at school I just show off my gymnastic moves in the park, me and my friend Isaiah are always showing off,” Mensah said.
When talking about his goals for the future, Mensah has it all planned out.
“To avenge my mom and get to the Olympics,” he said, followed by a Superman pose.
WHGF programs are held in the Harlem Armory and there are about 15 summer coaches. The foundation has multiple donors and holds fundraisers to cover the costs.
“It is an expensive thing and we are always fundraising -- it’s constant,” Hilliard said, “But it is so worth it because these kids will be able to always say I competed at this national championship."
Update: The Harlem gymnasts returned from Nationals victorious. Here are some highlights of the team's achievements:
Baily "BJ" Mensah, 10, won a 1st place Gold Medal in Tumbling Level 7.
Mathew Dayle, 8, won a 2nd place Silver Medal in Level 5
Dennis Rivera-Lopez, 20, won a 2nd place Silver Medal in DMT Level 6
Nasrullah "Nas" Abdur-Rahman, 9, placed 6th inDMT Level 6
Jade Hendrickson, 18, placed 7th in Trampoline Level 7.