ODESSA — Sydney Marler has been preparing for the shining moment of her gymnastics career.
At 14, Marler is ripe for the picking in terms of colleges and U.S. Olympic gymnastic scouts, and Sunday's USA Gymnastics Junior Olympic National Championship is a stage on which athletes like her get noticed. With this being Marler's first Junior Olympic National Championship at level 10 — the highest a junior competitor can go — she has spent each day polishing her routines and curbing the nervous tension.
"I am pretty nervous about the competition, I have to admit, but I'm trying not to let it get the best of me because I just want to have fun," the Seven Springs Middle eighth-grader said last week. "I've just been perfecting the little things and trying to minimize deductions. Mentally, I just have to block everything out and not let negative things get to me, because I just want to show off what I can do at this competition."
Reaching this point is the pinnacle of a journey that started when Marler was 5. She has drawn inspiration from Olympians such as Gabby Douglas and has maintained a goal of reaching the Olympic stage.
"If I can't make the Olympics, I'd at least like to go to the University of Florida on a scholarship," said Marler, of Trinity. "Gymnastics is a rock for me, my way of life. I can't imagine my life without it. I look at someone like Gabby Douglas who didn't have much growing up and she made it. There is no reason I can't make it."
One area that separates her from other gymnasts is her ability on the uneven bars. Her coach, Suncoast Gymnastics Academy owner Arnold Gwinn, describes her as a workhorse and feels that her performance on the bars will determine how she finishes at the championship.
"She had to be in the top 15 of the Southeast region to qualify for this competition, so just getting there is a huge accomplishment," Gwinn said. "Her age group is the toughest competition at this event, and if she can nail her bar routine, which includes a release that normally is acquired by someone much older, she could place in the top 10 of the country. "
Gwinn's 13-year old daughter Crystal has been training with Marler since a young age and has promised to keep in touch with her as she travels to Minneapolis to compete Sunday.
"She is a born athlete so I never doubt her," Crystal said. "I'm going to be face timing her the whole time she is on the road. It's been a learning experience for me watching her because she's shown that you just have to keep trying. If you fall down you just get back up and try again and you'll make it."