Utah’s Postell takes a tumble | ParkRecord.com

Utah’s Postell takes a tumble

Little more than two years ago, the mere mention of Ashley Postell’s name would send thousands of young gymnastics fans into an ear-splitting frenzy at the University of Utah’s Huntsman Center.

The Ute legend and one-time balance beam world champion remembers what it felt like to be revered as a living wonder – to emerge from the smoky tunnel as a sea of red shirts erupted in delight. And, candidly, she’d like to feel that rush again.

"It’s tough to move on," said Postell, who has worked as a coach at Kimball Junction’s Black Diamond Gymnastics since September. "I can’t do anything now but become a fan."

Black Diamond competitive program director Charity Christensen said it became apparent that her employee still needed a competitive outlet, so she suggested the simplest solution: Try a new sport.

"Some athletes know when they’re ready to be done," Christensen said. "I think Ashley is still in love with gymnastics, and that’s the hard part: giving up on it."

Postell dabbled with both trampoline and power tumbling – sports which involve many of the same skills as gymnastics but require less of a time commitment. Power tumbling came more naturally, so Postell shelved the trampoline challenge for a later date.

Her new discipline takes her tumbling down a long, narrow stripe without the dance moves you’d see in a gymnastics floor exercise. The graphite rod supports are more forgiving than a spring-loaded gymnastics floor and allow Postell’s chronic left foot injury to heal between performances. While gymnasts are often well past their primes by the time they enter college, most tumblers peak from about age 27 to 30.

"The older you are in this sport – it’s kind of like men’s gymnastics – the better you are," Christensen said. "Ashley’s such a naturally talented athlete, she can excel immensely."

Spinning isn’t rewarded in power tumbling to the degree that it is in gymnastics, and Postell has had to improve her flipping in complex sequences. Whereas a floor routine "pass" will involved only two or three judged elements, power tumbling features eight consecutive skills.

The one-time media darling received little fanfare for winning the power tumbling Utah State Championship in Heber City from April 30 to May 1 despite owning almost no competitive experience. Her unofficial goal now is to compete alongside the nation’s top gymnasts, trampoliners and tumblers at the Visa Cup in Hartford, Connecticut, Aug. 10-14.

First, though, she must earn elite status with a strong performance at the U.S. Elite Qualifier near her home town in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Your guess as to whether she will is as good as hers.

"I don’t know anyone," Postell said. "I don’t know any names or what people normally do. I’m kind of going in blind."

Blind, but possibly more physically gifted than anybody she’ll encounter. Postell is remarkable among gymnasts in that she is generally healthy at nearly 24 years old and has not lost much of the raw natural ability that led her to a World Championship gold medal on the balance beam in 2002 and a U.S. Championship in the floor exercise in 2003.

Left off the Sydney U.S. Olympic Team somewhat controversially after illness and injury struggles, she had eyed a return to international competition in time for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. It was an ambitious goal – hindered by a new scoring system emphasizing tighter routines and more difficult skills – and a rolled ankle kept her from making her qualifying bid at the 2007 National Championships.

To this day, she entertains thoughts of returning as an elite gymnast.

"I have thought about it, but with the new code and stuff, I think it would be pretty difficult for me," said Postell, who adds that elites train between 30 and 40 hours a week. "I think it would take a lot more out of me to compete at that level again. I would like to, but I just think I need to get past that and it’s not really attainable."

Problem is, Postell isn’t accustomed to resting on her laurels. The owner of an NCAA-record 20 All-American awards (in gymnastics, you become an All-American by making the final in one of the four events, and she never missed one), she also finished runner-up three times for the coveted all-around title (a composite score of all four events at national championships).

"If she wanted to come back to elite, she could probably hang with them still," Christensen said. "She’s that naturally talented."

But because elite gymnastics would jeopardize her health in later years, Postell was persuaded to accept that the Olympic dream was no longer worth pursuing.

Before taking a job at Black Diamond, she was cast as a stunt double on the ABC family gymnastics show "Perfect 10" in Los Angeles. That was the beginning and the end, she said, of her career in show business (which lured former U teammates Nicolle Ford and Kristina Baskett to Las Vegas).

"If there was something out here, I would totally be down and want to do it," Postell said. "I just don’t know if I’d be able to survive in Vegas. I just don’t think my personality is the type that would fit in there."

Where she does fit in – after what she describes as "a difficult transition" – is in the Black Diamond gym, working alongside adoring young girls.

"It’s really nice to come in and know what I’m talking about, and not just be some random person off the street," Postell said. "It’s a blast. I love all the girls here and I love the staff."

Christensen said there were "a lot of shocked little faces" when she told the team Postell would be a new coach. Many of the athletes have posters of Postell hanging on their walls, she said, and couldn’t bring themselves to talk at first. Eventually, they came to see their idol as a normal person, made out of the same stuff as them.

"I’ve never seen an athlete inspire or be able to connect with kids as well as she has," Christensen said.

Postell spends most of her time coaching younger Black Diamond gymnasts who work out about 24 hours a week (compared with about six hours for tumblers). She said it’s easy not to take things too seriously after her recent experiences, and she finds it eerily satisfying walking into the same arenas she once competed in, minus butterflies.

"It’s different standing there watching them than standing there, having to compete," she said. "I definitely like that part of it."

Black Diamond trampoline and tumbling teammates and protégés standing out at the state finals included winners Sedona Burman (level 5, age 10, flight one) and Ericka Stemler (level 5, age 11, flight two).

Sara Thomas was eighth in level 9 (15 and up), Mackenzie Bloxham took fifth at level 8 (11-12), Jordyn Bloxham was second in level 6 (7-8), Madison Kozac placed third in level 5’s second flight (12). Holly Moffat was fourth and teammate Kara Anderson followed in fifth among the first flight of level 5’s aged 11, while Evelyn Labrum was fifth in the second flight. Isabella Shaw was 10th in the second flight of 9-year-old level 5’s, while Sara Bennett was 13th in the first flight of level 5 10-year-olds.

"The beauty of tramp and tumbling is that a lot of kids like to tumble," Christensen said. "They don’t have to worry about balance beam or bars, and it’s less scary. The time commitment is minimal."

The "TNT" team will host a garage sale at the Black Diamond gym on June 5 to raise money for nationals – offering anything from gymnastics equipment to personal items. Christensen said Postell will be available to meet young fans and sign autographs.

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