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Focused gymnast's dedication pays off

PORT RICHEY

Shannon LeBlanc has always been a fast learner.

What may be even more impressive than her 4.5 grade point average in her freshman year at River Ridge High School is how quickly she's been able to adapt away from school in the gymnasium.

LeBlanc qualified for her third consecutive national championship tournament, but this time in level 10 gymnastics, the second-highest skill level under the Olympics.

Her rapid ascension within the sport isn't typical.

"It's been a great season for her. For her to jump into that kind of competition and excel is rare for anybody," said Arnold Gwinn, her coach at Suncoast Gymnastics. "It's not a common occurrence for that to happen. I've been coaching here for 20 years, and Shannon is the first to do it."

After finishing in seventh place during the regional championships, even with an ankle injury, LeBlanc excelled in all four events at nationals.

Her scores in vault (9.174), bars (8.925), balance (9.225) and floor (9.35) earned her a 36.675 out of a possible 40. She finished 28th out of 56 despite being among the youngest competitors in level 10.

"It's definitely a big jump (to level 10) because you can't get away with any mistakes," LeBlanc said. "The judges are a lot tougher; you have to have your feet in perfect position, otherwise you'll lose points quickly."

With three more chances at nationals, LeBlanc hopes to turn her passion for the sport into a college education, and eventually, medical school.

"I'm not really sure where I want to go to college, but I'd like to stay on the East Coast," LeBlanc said. "Not every school has gymnastics, so that makes it a little tougher."

There are 56 schools throughout the country that offer gymnastics scholarships with University of Florida being the only state school in Division I.

Initially beginning with dance school, LeBlanc switched to gymnastics after an instructor said she excelled with acrobatics.

For the past seven years, LeBlanc has been involved in gymnastics and became interested in the sport when her older sister, Lauren, became a level 10 competitor.

In order to achieve her goal of earning a college scholarship through gymnastics, LeBlanc trains five days a week, arriving an hour early each day for additional training. Spending 30 hours or more training each week has proven to be too much for many girls, but LeBlanc loves the sport and insists she'll never grow tired of it.

Although she misses going to the movies with friends on Fridays, LeBlanc realizes the work she is putting in now may have tremendous payoff later.

"For the past few years, she's had her eyes set on being a gymnast in college," said Darlene LeBlanc, Shannon's mother. "She always sets goals and achieves them, and a lot of times exceeded them. She's been great at setting goals and maintaining them because she's that kind of child."

Correspondent Brendan Galella can be reached at bgalella@gmail.com.

>>Fast facts

Shannon LeBlanc

Age: 14

Grade: ninth

School: River Ridge High School

GPA: 4.5

Future career: anesthesiologist

Focused gymnast's dedication pays off 05/29/08 [Last modified: Thursday, May 29, 2008 6:51pm]

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