Tumbling toward their goals together
Madeleine Johnson and Amanda Johanson used to dream and play a lot together as little girls, but they had no idea that one day they would realize their dreams together.
Last Saturday, the two girls, both seniors at Park City High School, qualified for the Level 10 Junior Olympic National Championships at a regional competition held at Utah Valley State College in April. It was the realization of a goal that has been years and years of hard work in the making.
The road to that goal has been full of sacrifice, support and friendship.
Johnson began gymnastics when she was three and Johnson, six, and both knew it was a sport they loved. Johnson split her time with training at Ballet West, even starring as Clara in the Nutcracker ballet. But soon, the passion for gymnastics took precedent.
Now, both girls travel for miles to train. Johnson in Lindon at All-American Gymnastics and Johanson in Sandy at Olympus Gymnastics. They both drive themselves and then spend about five hours a day to training, Monday through Friday. The time commitment means fitting in schoolwork during free periods and late at night when they return from practice.
It also means that they have missed out on a lot of the normal parts of growing up. There is no after-school hanging out with friends or television-watching time and the girls will miss their high school prom to attend the national championships.
"We’ve had to miss as lot of stuff," Johanson said. "It definitely controls our life, but it’s paid off."
Through it all, the girls have each other. The two first met because their parents were friends and they have been inseparable ever since. When gymnastics became central in their lives, it only made their bond stronger.
"We just kind of click," Johanson said. "I don’t think anyone understands our sport except other gymnasts. There’s so much blood, sweat and tears that goes into it, it’s crazy."
At regionals, they both were able to turn in clean performances on all four events and were happy to have each other there for moral support.
"It’s so stressful," Johanson said. "Gymnastics is such a stressful sport. We always vent to each other. She’s the only one who understands me. It’s just good to have each other."
Before the girls could drive, their parents had to shuttle them up and down the canyon, and they continue to cover the constant high cost of training and competing.
"Our parents have been helpful," Johanson said.
For Johnson, it’s been even more than that. Her father passed away when she was 15 and she has been competing in his memory ever since.
"It’s what helps me keep going knowing that he wanted me to succeed in the sport," Johnson said.
The girls also get significant support from their club coaches and teammates. Both girls describe them as a second family.
"Your gym coaches spend more time with you than your parents do. They know you inside and out," Johnson said. "The other girls help too I couldn’t do it without my teammates’ support."
The pain has paid off in multiple dividends. Not only are the girls the only two to qualify from Utah, a rare occurrence, but they are both from the same city, an even bigger rarity.
They have also used their talents and skills to earn their way to college. Johnson will attend Brigham Young University (BYU) in the fall and Johanson will compete at the University of Denver (DU), both on full-ride athletic scholarships.
"That’s one of the keys to doing well in gymnastics and receiving a college scholarship because of it," Johnson said.
Johnson has always wanted to attend BYU, and focused on that goal throughout high school.
"My mom was realistic. We knew that the Olympics were unrealistic, so a college scholarship was the main goal," Johnson said.
Johanson, on the other hand, was undecided for awhile, but when she went to the DU campus, she knew the fit was right. Everyone on the team’s incoming freshman class qualified for nationals and Johanson knows that eventually she can be a big contributor to the team.
But that’s a few months off. The girls have less than two weeks to fine-tune and prepare themselves for the Junior Olympics in Ohio, which will be held May 20. The pair will be traveling together and are both praying for the kind of meet that they had at the regional competition.
"I kind of want to show the rest of the U.S. that Utah can do gymnastics," Johanson said. "We have something to prove."
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