|Parkettes gymnasts Erica Fuchs (left), Taylor Lawson, Meredith Sylvia and Alex Frack have gymnastics scholarships to Temple, Stanford, Auburn and Penn State, respectively.|
When I walked into the Parkettes National Training Center the other day to talk to Taylor Lawson and Meredith Sylvia about their college commitments and the 43rd Parkette Invitational meet, Taylor was training on the balance beam.
I watched as she stood perfectly still, then suddenly launched herself into a back flip with a half twist, landing solidly on the four-inch-wide beam. I can’t tell you exactly how many Parkettes gymnasts I’ve seen do that same skill over the years, but on this day, I wondered how long it took her to get up the nerve to try it.
Taylor laughed when I questioned her about it, then said, “I first did that skill when I was 12 years old. It took a lot of trial and error and I have like battle scars from it, but now I have a technique that I use. It works, like, 90 percent of the time, so actually it’s one of my easier skills. It looks really hard, but if you have the right technique, it’s really simple.”
“Easy for you to say,” I replied. “Any broken bones?”
“No,” she said, then, pointing to her leg, she added, “Just some bruises and a little bit of bleeding; but they go away.”
Taylor and Meredith have both been in the gym since they were 1 ½ years old.
“We lived in the Poconos but my sister (Brooke) was in gymnastics here and my mom just put me in because I was always energetic,” Taylor said. “I just stayed with it.”
Meredith began in a gym in Knoxville, Tenn., but her family moved to the Lehigh Valley when her dad took a job here. “There were two choices, and I had heard a lot about Parkettes and said let’s go there,” Meredith said. “The first time I came into the gym I knew this was a program that could get people somewhere, especially me.”
The two girls had a common role model: Parkettes World Cup champion Elizabeth “Ebee” Price. Price, an alternate to the 2012 Olympic team, is now a junior at Stanford. She has earned 10 All-America honors in her first two years with the Cardinal.
“Ebee was also at Parkettes all her life, so I’ve watched her go through the ranks and everything and I always aspired to be like her,” Lawson said. “I was looking at Stanford, and when she got in it was like I really needed to be there. She’s a great role model, like my other big sister. It will be really good that I’ll be with her for my freshman year.”
“I looked up to her and became part of her group when I was Elite and we traveled together to championships,” Sylvia said of Price. “I remember her always being confident and going after her skills and being an inspiration in the gym with her good attitude.”
And somewhere down the line, it’s possible that Lawson and Sylvia will be involved in sports as their careers. Listen to their reasoning.
Lawson plans to pursue a career as an orthopedic surgeon. “Mainly because of how doctors have helped me,” she said. “Every time I go there, they always want to make you better and are looking for cutting-edge ways to get you better faster, and that’s what I really want to do to – give back to other athletes what doctors have given me, and even more. I want to help other athletes aspire to their dreams, too.”
Sylvia plans to major in psychology and hopes to work in either the sports or clinical field. “Gymnastics is like 90 percent mental and I know a lot of girls, including me, struggle with the mental part,” she said. “I would like to be one of those people who can help people improve their performance.”
Girls like Lawson and Sylvia have kept the Parkettes founders, Donna and Bill Strauss, and long-time coaches like Robin Netwall and John Holman going. The club will be 50 years old in 2018. It has put Allentown on the sports map not just nationally, but also internationally, and a huge banner hanging on the wall in the training center lists all of the student-athletes who have received college scholarships for their efforts.
Four Parkettes joined that for the incoming class of 2017. In addition to Lawson and Sylvia, Erica Fuchs will be going to Temple and Alex Frack to Penn State.
They, and other Parkettes like Elites Christina Desiderio and Margzetta Frazier, who are in Texas this week at a USA Gymnastics training camp, will be competing in either this week’s Parkette Invitational for girls or next week’s Brian Babcock Memorial for boys. It’s the most wonderful time of year for the club, with more than 1,800 competitors expected.
It’s worth a look. You might just see a future U.S. Olympian. Or, in the case of Lawson or Sylvia, a future NCAA champ.