Jen Hawks is a physical therapist by trade. She wanted to get her preschool-aged daughter Emma into a sport that would help develop her physically.
Specifically, her Mom wanted a sport to develop things like balance, coordination, core strength and body awareness. She felt that gymnastics would fill that bill.
Emma chose gymnastics. While the 14-year-old resident of Gamber also likes lacrosse, snowboarding, and track and field, gymnastics is her thing. Emma is an eighth-grader now, and it's pretty obvious that she's chosen wisely.
In March, she won the Level 8 USA Gymnastics State Championship. She did this by having the highest all-around score. The all-around is the sum of the scores achieved in the floor exercises, balance beam, uneven bars, and the vault.
There are 10 skill levels in gymnastics, and winning a state title at Level 8 is an accomplishment.
Emma has been good at gymnastics almost from the time she joined up at the age of 3 or 4. She started with the Maryland Athletic Gymnastics gym in Eldersburg. But coaches there, seeing her talent, suggested that she would benefit from a more competitive environment.
When she was a first-grader, she moved to Owings Mills-based United Gymnastix where she remains today.
It didn't take long for Emma to excel. In two years she was a state champion.
In spring, 2013, when Emma was in the third grade, she was state champ in the Level 5 all-around. By the time the states rolled around again the following spring, the Level 5 requirements had been re-aligned to include a number of previously Level 6 requirements.
The bigger challenge didn't particularly bother Emma — she won the state championship again. She also took firsts on the uneven bars and the floor exercises in that competition.
The following year, she had moved up to Level 7. At this level, the gymnast isn't bound as much by compulsory moves and is allowed to develop his or her own routine to a greater degree.
The next two years, Emma continued to make a name for herself in high-level youth gymnastics competition even though she didn’t win any state titles. In 2016, she was third in the state Level 7 all-around, second on the uneven bars, third in vault and fourth in both floor exercises and balance beam.
In the 2017 season, she moved up to Level 8. Emma was fifth in all-around and third in the vault.
“You need to have both strength and confidence to do well in gymnastics. You need a lot of focus too, obviously. [Emma] is able to put all that together,” Jen Hawks said, explaining some of the reasons for her daughter’s continual success.
And that brings us up to the 2018 season which actually began in November, 2017 — but not too well.
In that first meet, Emma sprained her lower leg. Luckily for her, the Christmas break had arrived, and the youngster had a month to rest up.
After that month, she competed in the Bahamas and managed a second in the all-around there. She was coming back.
Later in the spring, Emma excelled in the Harford Trophy Meet, her final regular-season competition. She was first in the all-around and in every other event but the balance beam where she finished fourth.
On March 17, she journeyed to Salisbury for the state Level 8 championships.
Up against 16 other top gymnasts from around Maryland, she was first in vault (9.275), second on the bars (9.150) and third on the beam (9.050). While she scored a 9.00 on the floor exercises, that was good only for seventh place. However, that score kept her in the running for the all-around title.
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Her Mom could have looked up the scores of the competitors to see where Emma was, but she chose not to.
“I didn’t look it up because I wanted to be surprised,” Jen Hawks said.
When they announced the Level 8 winner not long after the competition, Hawks got a very happy surprise.
After all of the individual event scores were added up, her daughter had a 36.475, the highest all-around. She was state champion for the third time in her career.
Emma also qualified for the Level 8 USA Gymnastics Region 7 competitions which were held April 6 in Newport News, Virginia. Facing other top competitors from Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, New Jersey and Delaware, she finished sixth in the all-around.
She’ll begin at Westminster High this fall. And while gymnastics isn’t an interscholastic sport, she intends to stay in competition.
“She wants to move up to Level 9. That’s her goal,” Jen Hawks said. “I was excited and happy for her. She puts a lot of work into it. Emma puts in 20 hours practice per week during the season and 25 per week in the off season. I was happy to see all that hard work pay off.”