A sprained neck kept 13-year-old Orlando Metro gymnast Amani Herring from competing in nationals, but it fueled her motivation to come back better than ever next season.
For Windermere resident Amani Herring, flipping and tumbling isn’t just a hobby.
It’s in her blood.
The 13-year-old has been taking gymnastics since she was 3 years old and has spent the last six years training at Orlando Metro Gymnastics L.B. McLeod. Her mom, Marissa, was also a competitive gymnast from a young age and is now a certified personal trainer and women’s fitness specialist who owns Garage Mama Fitness. Her dad, Kim, is a former NFL player and owns Trinity Sports Performance.
Amani, a rising eighth-grader, devotes about 30 hours weekly to her gymnastics training and maintaining her Level 9 status.
“Because she’s so young, you can move forward faster but then you’re stuck there,” Marissa said. “They go Level 9, 10 and repeat, because after that, it’s elite. You can’t go down a level. You keep them in the same level a couple years once you get this high. They just want the girls comfortable and happy.”
But at the same time she’s honing her skills, she’s constantly building on them and learning new ones — most recently, a Yurchenko double, which at Level 9 she cannot use in competition. She likely will compete at Level 9 again next season, and her goal is two-fold: to be one of the top five Level 9 gymnasts in the country and to make it to nationals once again.
This season was the first time Amani had qualified for nationals, after taking first place all-around champion in early April at the Level 9 regional competition. She was set to head to Lansing, Michigan, to compete nationally.
“I love how competitive people are,” Amani said. “I like traveling to other places with my friends and seeing how many different teams there are.”
But two weeks before nationals, she fell off beam and landed hard, spraining her neck and forcing her to take a week off of training and miss out on nationals. Even after she got back in the gym, it took about three weeks to get past her mental block and go backward on the beam again.
“It was very hard to get over what I did,” Amani said. “I was like, ‘I don’t feel like going back up again; I don’t know if I want to do this again.’ My coaches Jason and Carrie helped me through a lot, and (mental coach) Wendy Bruce. It’s definitely a mental sport. I’m not as strong mentally as I am physically — I’ll go for something but I have to think about what I’m actually going to do. You can’t just give up on what you’re doing; you have to keep pushing.”
Marissa said the sport has given her and her husband the ability to teach Amani life lessons.
“We always tell her, ‘You’re not going to have a perfect day, but you don’t quit,’” Marissa said. “She’s 30,000 times better than I ever was, and they defy gravity, in a sense. The force of what they do — it’s insane. It’s more to me making sure she stays mentally healthy. There’s a lot of people who bend over backward to make sure she’s on top of her game. It’s just awesome to see her overcome and still be successful — she’s just naturally talented, and that’s a gift and a privilege.”
With hours of work and literal blood, sweat and tears put into training, the sport takes a toll on gymnasts’ bodies. As athletes, Kim and Marissa know this well and work to ensure that Amani is well-rounded and healthy enough to continue.
“You’re super proud as a parent, but this sport is so intense mentally that you just want to keep them sane in order to get to the next round,” Marissa said. “Unfortunately this year, we had a setback, but at least you know you can make it again, and that’s what’s really cool — moving forward for the next year, it’s ‘What can you improve on?’”
And that’s just what Amani is focused on doing in preparation for the rest of the year, and ultimately next competition season.
“You do put your time and effort into this but also have fun with it, because it’s going to get really hard and you’re going to have to push through it,” Amani said.
Contact Danielle Hendrix at [email protected].