Thursday, March 30, 2023
March 30, 2023

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Gymnasts’ Pre-Dawn Dedication

Evergreen team gets up early to show commitment

By , Columbian High School Sports Reporter
3 Photos
Jessica Heron stretches out a yawn while waiting for other team mates to start gymnastics practice Tuesday morning.  The Evergreen High School gymnastics team meets  at 5:15 am, 4 days a week, for practice at Vancouver Elite Gymnastics Academy.
Jessica Heron stretches out a yawn while waiting for other team mates to start gymnastics practice Tuesday morning. The Evergreen High School gymnastics team meets at 5:15 am, 4 days a week, for practice at Vancouver Elite Gymnastics Academy. (Vivian Johnson, for The Columbian) Photo Gallery

MacKenzie Wilson has two times set on her alarm clock near her bed, plus she uses another alarm on her phone. She will allow herself about a 10-minute snooze, and that’s it.

It might still be dark outside, but it’s time for practice.

The Evergreen High School gymnastics team, under first-year head coach Amy Begins, is showing its dedication just by showing up on time, at 5:15 a.m., ready to work.

Not even Begins was sure it would work out.

“If you’d have told me this is what I’d have to do when I was in high school, I would have said, ‘No way. Not happening.’ ”

Yet this season, because of a conflict with the coach’s schedule, it was this time or no time. The Plainsmen gymnasts have learned a lot about themselves, and their commitment to their sport.

“I thought it would be harder to get up,” Wilson said. “But obviously we love this sport, so it’s easier to get up. I can do anything I put my mind to.”

Evergreen had five gymnasts in the program a year ago. Today, there are 15.

“All 15 of them are here every day,” Begins said.

Senior Mackenzie Smith, the team’s captain, thought the idea of 5:15 a.m. practice was crazy. A longtime gymnast with a passion for the sport, she knew she would make it happen. Yet, she was not confident the program would grow in numbers this season.

“I’m impressed big time,” Smith said of her teammates, “for showing up and practicing as hard as they do.”

Begins is a full-time coach at Naydenov Gymnastics, working in the afternoons every day. A former Evergreen gymnast, she wanted desperately to coach the Plainsmen. When the position became open, she inquired.

“I didn’t think they’d let me practice in the morning,” Begins said of school athletic officials.

But she got the OK.

The next thing she had to do was convince any would-be gymnasts.

There was a get-together meeting with potential athletes. Begins explained the situation. Some candidates said no.

“Obviously those who wanted to be here are here,” the coach said.

The plan is for coach and athletes to arrive at the Vancouver Elite Gymnastics Academy’s (VEGA) north site, formerly Gold Star, at around 5:15 for practice that starts at 5:30 a.m. That gives the gymnasts time to wake up during warm-ups, with the help of loud music.

“I started out being really tough on them,” Begins said of being there on time. “I wanted to get them to understand I like punctuality. It’s a sign of respect, commitment, and dedication.”

Now, well into the season, she has girls who beat her to the facility.

“I’m there every day at 5:15,” Begins said. “Sometimes if the Starbucks line is long, it’s 5:16. I gotta have my coffee.”

There have been a few funny issues with getting to the gym.

Smith got pulled over on the way one day. The officer let her go with a warning when he learned she was on her way to practice.

Freshman Caitlin Lende-Campbell said one night she went to bed really early, then woke up too early. Disoriented, she started getting ready to go to practice, at about 3 a.m.

Another time, Wilson was the driver in a car pool when she went to pick up teammate Jessica Heron.

“We rang the bell, we honked the horn. We thought she was still sleeping,” Wilson said. “It was the wrong house.”


That is a memory maker in a season full of them for the Plainsmen. But even while having fun, and making fun of themselves, they also are serious about gymnastics.

“We really have to take advantage of the time we have,” Smith said. “Other schools can practice longer if they have to. We have to get into gymnastics mode right away and work really hard.”

Practice must end by 7 a.m. in order to give the athletes time to prepare for school.

The coach also said she must thank the parents and other relatives who give rides to the athletes. The cooperation is needed to make it work.

A few weeks into the season, Begins decided to give her athletes an extra day to sleep in, scheduling only three practices a week. The athletes, though, balked at the idea.

“They begged me to have a fourth day of practice,” Begins said.

“We didn’t feel three was going to get us enough practice,” Smith said. “We wanted another day.”

It was not just the team leaders, it was all 15 of them, all for keeping their routine to improve their abilities.

“It’s really worth it,” freshman Katie Shaffer said. “Once you get past the tiredness, it’s really fun.”

That is the attitude all the Plainsmen have this season. It is not easy waking up so early, but it also is not easy to compete in gymnastics.

“If you want something bad enough, you’ll get yourself to do it,” Smith said.

Columbian High School Sports Reporter