Hereford High freshman Sydney Needle has given up everything teenagers hold dear to fully dedicate herself to gymnastics. That includes skipping parties, not talking on the phone with friends or getting immersed in Facebook.
Instead, she dedicates her free time to rigorous practices and high-profile competitions.
“It’s just has taken over her entire life,” said Needle’s mom Lisa. “She is not part of the social scene in high school because she is at practice every single day, but at the same time, she has found something she absolutely loves.”
It’s been worth it, too.
Representing Rebounders Gymnastics in Timonium, Needle finished 14th in the United States Gymnastics Eastern Nationals on May 4 in Battle Creek, Mich., in the all-around competition, which included posting standout scores in the vault (8.75), beam (9.0), bars (9.25) and floor (9.075).
The 5-foot-4 Needle scored better than all but six competitors in the bars event.
She thinks performances like those will help her achieve her ultimate goal — continuing her gymnastics career beyond high school.
“I really want to do college gymnastics and I am competing against the best people in the United States,” Needle said.
Needle, who carries a 4.0 grade point average, was the only competitor from Maryland in the 14-year-old age group (Junior Seven) to compete in level nine — that’s one step below Olympic-level caliber.
“This in her first year as a level nine gymnast and for her to make it to nationals in her first year is very, very good,” said Rebounders team coordinator Sheri Huppenthal, one of the organization’s three coaches. “It really provides her with valuable experience for wherever she goes from here.”
The experience of excelling at Eastern Nationals has left Needle even more enthusiastic and determined.
“In the other levels, you are just at states and regionals,” Huppenthal said. “You just get to see a tiny glimpse. But at nationals, you really understand all that’s out there in this half of country and how hard you need to work. There are a lot of good kids out there.”
Needle’s biggest asset may be how hard she trains for a season that spans from September to May.
“She practices four hours a night,” Huppenthal said. “That’s a lot of dedication right there to be in the gym. She just works really hard and takes a lot of turns and takes a lot of quality turns. She just really works hard.”
Needle, who has been involved in the sport all her life, placed third in the all-around, second on the beam, fifth on the vault and sixth on the floor in her sixth appearance in the state championship meet.
She continued her success at regionals in April, placing fourth in the all-around, which earned her a trip to Eastern Nationals.
Now, even though the season is over, Needle can’t wait to get to practice every day to prepare for the 2013-2014 campaign.
“I just love gymnastics,” she said. “(Practices) are not tough because they are a lot of fun. I would do it the whole day if I could.”