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Just Routine

Sophomore gymnast faces increasing pressure as she prepares for the next level
Sophomore+Grace+Murphy+gets+rid+of+any+excess+chalk.+When+I+look+at+the+high+bar%2C+I+always+tell+myself+that+I+got+this.+Murphy+said.
Carter Newlin
Sophomore Grace Murphy gets rid of any excess chalk. “When I look at the high bar, I always tell myself that I got this.” Murphy said.

Sophomore Grace Murphy chalks up her hands and takes another long look at the high bar. For 20 minutes, she’s been attempting to nail down the execution of the Gienger skill, where she swings around the bar and flies off, before revolving 180 degrees in the air to catch herself back onto the bar. On the last attempt, she feels the bar graze her fingers on her descent into the foam pit beneath. This time, she grabs on, and her teammates and coaches erupt with cheers. For Grace, every move has to be as perfect as possible. If not, her hopes of sticking the landing at Nationals could be crushed.

Murphy’s ascension to level 10 this season is the culmination of more than a decade of work. She began her quest when she was 3 years old with recreational lessons at Harbor City Gymnastics, but was quickly moved up to the pre-team. She then began Level 1 of the 10 tiers in the Junior Olympic program under USA Gymnastics. Murphy said the move from Level 9 to 10 is an exponential leap in competition.

“Only five percent of gymnasts make it to Level 10 in the entire United States,” Murphy said. “Because level 10 is like college gymnastics, now I have to be doing good in order to make it to college.”

Last season, Murphy was competing at Level 9, in which she was able to qualify for Easterns, consisting of 28 of the best all-around gymnasts in her age group, in the eastern half of the country. At Easterns, Murphy took second place on bars, finishing sixth overall.

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“Easterns had been a goal of mine for about two years and it seemed so out of reach at some points in my Level 9 season,” Murphy said. “When I was in my second year of Level 9 I had to overcome a lot, and I worked really hard to be the best I could be for each meet. I took each meet one step at a time, and began getting better and better scores so I knew I was on the right track.”

Repeating words of affirmation, sophomore Grace Murphy prepares to practice a beam skill at Tumble Weeds Gymnastics on Feb. 15. (Carter Newlin)

While Murphy acknowledges the pressures that come with her level of gymnastics, she said she is at peace with her workload.

“I’m really not worried because I can trust the process more than anything,” Murphy said. “The scores I’m getting this year in Level 10 are the same scores that got me to states and easterns last year.”

Murphy’s typical day consists of waking up at 7 a.m., going to school until 3:30 p.m., driving straight to practice which ends at 8:30 p.m., getting home, eating and finishing her homework so she hopes to be in bed by 1 a.m. The daily cycle is only interrupted on Wednesdays, the only rest day afforded to her.

“Obviously you don’t have a very good sleep schedule, but I don’t think anyone at West Shore has a good sleep schedule,” Murphy said. “If I was not doing gymnastics during my time practicing, then I don’t know what else I would be doing.”

Each day of training is different, involving a mixture of conditioning and practicing her routines on each event: bars, beam, floor and vault. Murphy’s coaches tailor each day to her specific needs so that she is able to perfect each and every skill in her routines.

“Coaches are one of the biggest parts of gymnastics,” Murphy said. “They guide you through everything, so having an experienced coach is the best thing to have.”

For four years, Murphy was coached by a woman named Shone Taglisferi, who Murphy said was critical in her growth as an athlete. Taglisferi’s coaching methods allowed her to take control of the mental struggles she faced in the sport according to Murphy.

“I am a very mental gymnast, so I tend to get in my head a lot,” Murphy said. “Shone pushed me really hard. And she’s part of the reason why I’m still doing gymnastics because my mom would have made me quit.

When recalling her most remarkable memories, Murphy said a moment she shared with Taglisferi stands out the most.

“I have a distinct memory of Shone walking over to the scoreboard after I had finished competing. We were looking at who was left to compete, I was fifth and there were two girls left in my age group which meant I had secured a spot on the national team,” Murphy said. “My coach said, ‘Do you know what that means Grace?’ I looked at her and said ‘yes I do,’ and we hugged. I was practically crying and so was she. Shone told me how proud she was of me and how much I had deserved the opportunity to compete at Easterns. The amount of happiness I felt in that moment is incomparable to anything else that had happened to me in my gymnastics career.”

I kept telling myself, ‘I can’t do this. I’m not going to go if she’s not here.’

— Grace Murphy

Halfway through the current season, Taglisferi left abruptly due to conflict within the club. Murphy said this change left her devastated.

“I thought that when she left I was fine,” Murphy said. “I began to get way more into my head, and started taking steps back. I kept telling myself, ‘I can’t do this. I’m not going to go if she’s not here.’”

When it comes to overcoming the obstacle Murphy described as a depressive state, she said most of the credit goes to her new coach pushing her.

“When someone gives you hope, you hold onto it. And that hope was Sammy,” She said.

Sammy Gouge was a competitive gymnast herself, graduating high school at Level 10 before taking her skills to Gannon University, a Division II school in a new sport introduced into the NCAA called Acrobatics and Tumbling. Upon graduating college last year in 2023, Gouge took the position as a coach at Tumbleweeds Gymnastics.

“I can sympathize with the girls a lot on the fears and workload just because I’ve done it so recently,” Gouge said. “Specifically when it comes to fears, I feel I am able to break those down, and work through them with the girls because I was a very fearful gymnast myself.”

Gaining momentum, sophomore Grace Murphy attempts a Gienger Skill at Tumble Weeds Gymnastics on Feb. 15. (Carter Newlin)

Gouge said her first impressions with Murphy felt like she was looking into a mirror.

“She reminds me a lot of myself when I was a gymnast,” Gouge said. “She’s a powerhouse and a very hard worker. I know she wants to have a good season and hopefully make it to college so I definitely want the best for her.”

The coaching staff currently surrounding Murphy consists of Sammy Gouge, and two other male coaches, Calvin Holstrom who has coached for 33 years in both men’s and women’s gymnastics and Meleeke Jones who has been coaching for 10 years and was a compulsory coach at Brandy Johnson Gym, which is known as one of the top gyms in the country.

“No matter who is working with the girls on any particular event, we are really consistent with our expectations, but we each bring our own unique coaching styles to the table,” Holstrom said. “What may work for one gymnast might not for the others, so between the three of us we can guarantee top quality training for all of our athletes.”

As Murphy steps onto the biggest stage of her career, she is led by three coaches she hasn’t had time to form a relationship with. However, Jones said that as coaches they all know Murphy’s aspirations, and will do everything they can to get her there.

“We want what she wants,” Jones said. “She has an amazing drive that is going to take her very far. Knowing where she is now, and where’s come from, I have no doubt that she will be able to make it to that college level.”

This story was originally published on The Roar on February 29, 2024.