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Girl beams in spotlight

Leila Pallardy loves playing with her two dogs and two rabbits and going to the mall. She wears braces on her teeth and ribbons in her hair.

By usual standards, the honors student at St. Mary's Episcopal Day School appears to be a typical 12-year-old.

But typical she's not. For the past 7{ years, Leila has trained as a gymnast and has tumbled and flipped her way to an impressive list of titles and accomplishments: 1988 level four state vault champion, third all-around; 1989 level six uneven bar champion, second all-around; 1990 level eight first all-around in the region; 1991 level nine first all-around in the eastern United States; 1992 member of the U.S. Junior National Team, one of top 12 Junior Elites.

"It takes a lot of dedication and time, but once you get where you wanted to be, it was worth all of the sacrifices," Leila said.

Where she wants to be in 1996 is Atlanta for the Summer Olympics. And she knows about sacrifices. She gives up close to 30 hours each week training for what she calls "the reward," making the Junior National Team, accomplishing new things and, maybe one day, making the Olympic team.

Every day after school and on Saturday mornings, she heads for LaFleur's Gymnastics in Tampa for hours of practice. A half-hour on the balance beam, one hour on uneven bars, a half-hour on vault, another hour on beam, 30 minutes on the floor exercise and another 30 on bars. It's a grueling schedule, without a break.

"Everyone gets frustrated, but you have to work through it and it gets easier," Leila said.

Achieving new levels makes it worthwhile, she said. Her latest accomplishment, or "trick," is a backhand spring followed by three layouts.

Her favorite events are the floor exercises, because "you can express yourself better," and the balance beam.

Leila, along with teammate Emily Spychala, will have the opportunity to show off her skill in these events and more Wednesday at the 1992 Tour of Olympic and World Champion Gymnasts at the Bayfront Center in St. Petersburg.

Leila's coach received a letter inviting her to participate in the exhibition, which is a showcase of Olympic and world champions who tour after the Olympic games.

In December, she will have the chance to compete at the Pan American Games in Brazil with the Junior National Team, which will represent the United States.

Leila has shown the kind of discipline and mental strength it takes to stand up in such competition.

According to her mother, Jean Pallardy, that ability is a result of her extensive training. She said Leila and her 9-year-old sister, Jacqueline, who is also an accomplished gymnast competing at level six, have benefited from their training.

Jacqueline recently won first all-around in a meet at the Interbay YMCA in Tampa. She has set a goal "to be as good as Leila," Mrs. Pallardy said.

"It's a very positive experience for them. It has helped them to be goal-oriented and disciplined and to have fun."

See Leila and others

The 1992 Tour of Olympic and World Champion Gymnasts will be at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Bayfront Center Arena in St. Petersburg. Tickets are $22.75 and $15.75, available at the box office and all Ticketmaster outlets. Call 898-2100 or 287-8844 for information.