By Erin Sofianek
“Gymnastics is amazing, It’s about power and strength but even more than that about friendship and fun,” says Elsa Sveen, a sophomore at Bozeman High school as well as a level eight gymnast.
Everything about Sveen oozes confidence and relaxation, from her weathered Birkenstocks with colorful socks to her even more colorful sweater.
“I’ve made some absolutely amazing friends through being involved in gymnastics,” says Sveen.
For coach Delia Harvey, gymnastics is the sort of sport that last long after you’ve stopped participating as a competitor.
“I love it! I could never imagine it not being a part of who I am,” she says. “The most rewarding part is that now, as I age, I am now starting to coach the kids of gymnasts who were teenagers when I moved here from Alabama almost eighteen years ago, right out of college.”
“My main goal is to install confidence in the girls while also teaching them to win and lose gracefully,” Harvey says.
The gymnasts at Lone Mountain Gym sometimes spend up to 20 hours a week practicing their moves as well as strengthening their bodies, dedicating nearly all of their free time to the sport. Yet despite the huge commitment, as well as the sacrifices that the students make to become the best at this rigorous activity, they get little to no acknowledgment or praise from the high school community.
Fortunately this doesn’t seem to affect the gymnasts to any great extent.
“Yeah it might be nice to get appreciated for the time we put in, but at the same time I love that it’s a club sport because we get to meet people from other grades and schools which is awesome. And of course we get rewarded for our effort in different ways.”
Coach Harvey has a slightly different perspective on this topic.
Harvey says that she feels it is a shame the gymnasts are not recognized and allowed to letter by the school because, “Gymnasts are strong, balanced, agile and mentally tough kids. To not recognize them and the hours they put into the sport, sometimes up to 20 hours per week, is not fair to them.”
Unfortunately, gymnastics can only take some kids so far, a fact that Harvey says is one of the most difficult things about coaching.
“My least favorite part [of coaching] is when a gymnast reaches the end of their ability level before they are able to emotionally understand that this might be it for them in this sport,” Harvey says.
For boys this is especially true, as they are normally more prone to pushing themselves too far.
“The main difference that I have seen over the years [between boys and girls is that] boys have to be held back because they have no self-preservation skills. Girls on the other hand, have to be convinced that they are ready. We have to give them much more mental training before they are ready for bigger skills,” Harvey says.
Harvey’s experience with a very wide variety of kids, sometimes 75 a day, has lead her to this conclusion.
With the huge commitment the sport requires, gymnasts run the risk of giving other parts of their life less time, including school and family.
“Yeah, sometimes it’s hard to balance everything”, says Sveen. “But I’ve been involved in this sport since I was little so I’ve adapted to the lack of free time.”
Sveen goes on to say that though it can be incredibly stressful trying to balance everything, “It’s not too bad most of the time. I can normally manage pretty well although I obviously have to prioritize schoolwork over gymnastics sometimes.”
Sveen also adds that good time management has become a necessity in her life, “Though I am pretty bad at managing time,” she laughs.
She also says that her family has been amazingly supportive of her long hours at the gym and the long distances she has to travel for meets in all corners of Montana and its surrounding states despite the fact that, “I never get to eat dinner with them during the week.”
Despite the challenges that face gymnasts like Sveen, the sport affects the girls in immeasurable ways.
Sveen certainly credits gymnastics with having a huge influence on her, saying, “I definitely think that [gymnastics] has played a role in shaping who I am today.”