Maddy Russ (left) and Reed Gulden (right) are ninth graders at Lincoln Academy by day and serious gymnasts by night.

Maddy Russ and Reed Gulden attend Lincoln Academy full time, and as soon as school is dismissed they head to their gymnastics team practice in Augusta. They compete at a very high level at statewide and regional competitions. We asked them to kick off our series “LA Plus This” by writing about what their lives are like as student athletes who compete in a sport outside of school.

by Maddy Russ ’22 and Reed Gulden ‘22

We’ve been doing gymnastics for most of our lives. It has become a huge part of who we are. We currently practice at Decal Gymnastics in Augusta. Practices are four hours long, five days a week during the school year, and even longer in the summer. For us, gymnastics has involved numerous injuries, switching gyms in the middle of the season, and many long car rides, but it’s also given us many friends and lots of great experiences.

We are both level nine gymnasts in the Junior Olympic USA Gymnastics program. There are ten levels, followed by elite, which is the international level, including the Olympics. Few gymnasts take the path to elite without leaving school and homeschooling or taking online courses. We both hope to continue doing gymnastics into college, which is done at level ten.

Since our gym is almost an hour away, the majority of our homework is done in the car. We change into our practice clothes at school, and leave right from there. Practices end at eight, and we usually get home between 9:00 and 9:15 pm. We eat dinner on the way home from practice, and then finish any homework we may not have gotten to earlier.

On weekdays, practices go from 4-8, and 4-8:30 on Fridays. We try to get there about fifteen minutes early to start stretching, or do mobility or other personalized stretches given by the athletic trainer our gym is partnered with. At 4, we usually start with a quick running warm-up on the floor. We then split into groups for conditioning, which lasts anywhere from half an hour to an hour and a half. Most of our conditioning is body weight exercises. We stretch all together using the National Team warm-up after conditioning, sometimes followed by what we call line drills, which are basic floor skills to warm up our bodies for harder skills. After line drills, we split into groups by level for each event.

reed and maddy 1

Maddy (right) and Reed (left) could hold this handstand all day if the need arose.

We each compete on all four women’s events: vault, uneven bars, beam, and floor exercise. We don’t practice all four events every day, and sometimes vault is in a combined rotation with another event, usually floor. We occasionally have conditioning at the end of practice if we didn’t do it at the beginning, but otherwise we do our splits again on the floor, then line up for our coaches before being dismissed.

Since there aren’t many large gymnastics meets hosted in Maine, we travel all over New England and New York to go to competitions. Last year, we traveled to South Carolina to compete at the Charleston Cup. Many of these meets are known as invitationals, large meets where teams sign up and choose to compete wherever they want to. The meets are separated into sessions by level and age. There are far fewer gymnasts in the higher levels than in the lower levels, especially in Maine, which means they often group a wider age range together.

After the regular season (December to March) which includes about five or six competitions, we move on to the championship season (March to May). At the State Meet, we have the opportunity to qualify for the Region 6 Championships, which has gymnasts competing from all of the New England states and New York. In level seven and eight, the top seven gymnasts at the state meet, regardless of age groups, qualify for the Super Seven team. We’ve each been to the regional meet multiple times over the last several years.

While the competition season goes from December to April/May, training is year round. In summer, the practices are longer than they are during the school year, and they’re in the morning. We go to training camps and clinics throughout the summer, ending with a camp called Make it Right during Labor Day weekend, which is hosted by the U.S. National Team coaches. Camps have brought us to Arizona, New York, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts. Some of the training camps are strictly for gymnastics, and involve long, hard days in the gym. Other camps mix gymnastics with typical summer camp activities, like swimming, rock climbing, and roasting marshmallows.

Participating in such a demanding sport has its setbacks, such as injuries. We go through a lot of tape and pre-wrap at the gym, as well as ankle and wrist braces, bandaids, crutches, walking boots, and a ton of ice. Even when we’re injured, we’re expected to go to the gym every day to work on conditioning, or anything else we’re still able to do. It’s important that we support our team even when we aren’t able to practice.

Gymnastics is not an easy sport, especially at higher levels. It can be very rewarding though, and we can’t imagine life without it. It’s a unique sport to do, because while high school sports are only done within a specific age group, our team has gymnasts from ages 5-18. We don’t all practice at the same time, but we’re all one team. Our level nine team consists of three 15-year-olds and one 11-year-old. Since both of us compete at level 9, the highest level we currently have at our gym, a lot of young gymnasts look up to us. It’s fun being able to work out with them, help them with their conditioning, or watch them when they get a new skill.

Gymnastics brings us a fair share of injuries, and stress, but teaches time management, sportsmanship, work ethic, perseverance, and how to flip on a four-inch-wide beam. That’s why we choose gymnastics. That, and the fact that we’re both hopeless at any other sport.

Maddy Russ of Damariscotta and Reed Gulden of South Bristol are ninth graders at Lincoln Academy.