The Poet Christian School third-grader’s goal — to join the nation’s elite in women’s gymnastics, and potentially join a future Olympic team — is well within her reach.
Madison, 9, recently returned from the Talent Opportunity Program national camp, a weeklong session hosted Dec. 1 to 6 by USA Gymnastics at its U.S. Olympic Training Center in Huntsville, Texas, just north of Houston.
Madison enjoyed the chance to practice for a week with elite coaches and athletes. She said the routine was similar to workouts at HD Gymnastics in Livermore, her regular gym, but on a more intense schedule.
She wanted a more fast-paced routine.
“In the morning we had 25 minutes on each event, and in the afternoon we had 25 minutes on each event,” she said. “They go over more stuff in less time.”
Madison said her goal is to win the Olympics, but her motivation to keep getting better is something any 9-year-old can understand.
“It’s fun. I just like it,” she said.
Her path to that camp included a rigorous testing process at the state level back in the summer that put her among the top 1,800 young gymnasts in the U.S.
USA Gymnastics narrowed that field to 280 gymnasts in the 8-, 9- and 10-year-old age group and invited them to the 2012 TOPs national test, a three-day session in September at the Olympic Training Center.
Madison was one of 100 girls to return to the December TOPs training camp.
Chris Pilger, Madison’s father, said the staff at the camp explained to parents and coaches on the first day that the gymnasts were in for a week of demanding workouts and tougher standards than they had seen at state and local levels.
“They basically explained to us why it’s important to the sport to have this,” Pilger said. “This is where the Olympians come from. They’re teaching not only the girls, but also their coaches … telling how they want to train them.”
Darrell Boykins, Madison’s coach and owner of HD Gymnastics in Livermore, joined her at the camp and said the gymnast was right in her element. He added that coaches on the USA Gymnastics national staff could see it.
“That particular kid would catch anyone’s eye. She’s something special,” Boykins said.
“She will not back down from any challenge. It’s amazing to find kids like that.”
Pilger said the trip to Houston was a good change of pace for his daughter. Instead of practicing with just a few girls at her skill level and her age, as at her home gym, she was surrounded by dozens of girls. He described it as a national all-star team of young gymnasts.
“You can be pushed more because you have those top athletes, where you can work harder and expect more,” Pilger said.
Madison practices nearly five hours each day six days a week at HD Gymnastics. That enthusiasm quickly carried her through the beginning levels of USA Gymnastics compulsory competition for youths.
She has moved from Level 4 to Level 7 in the past year, into the category typical for teenage gymnasts, with Level 10 the category for college-level competitors.
Pilger said a competitive nature comes naturally to Madison and her older brother, Dylan, 10, who plays championship-level sports with Tracy Babe Ruth baseball and Tracy Buccaneers football.
“Since they’ve been little, this whole house has been competition, from who’s going to get to the dinner table first, who’s going to get out of the shower first, who’s going to brush their teeth first,” Pilger said. “Her whole life and his whole life, they’ve always been in competition with each other.”
He added that Madison got bored with sports like soccer and could never be satisfied with athletic events where everyone gets a medal.
“She’s gifted in gymnastics,” he said. “Her thing is, ‘I want to win.’”
One of the centerpieces of the family home is a balance beam in the living room.
“She will pull that beam out when everybody else is doing their own thing around the house, and she’ll just work,” Pilger said.
“It’s very rare to find those kids who not only are gifted in the sport, but also have the will to work hard so they will succeed. Failure is basically their biggest fear. She’s not scared of anything except for not winning.”
• Contact Bob Brownne at 830-4227 or firstname.lastname@example.org.