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Future plans up in the air for acrobatic gymnasts

Performing on NBC's "America's Got Talent" was exciting. Meeting the panel of celebrity judges was cool.

But for Sykesville gymnast Chrissy Antoniades, introducing America to acrobatic gymnastics in prime time made the recent experience a perfect 10.

Antoniades, 18, performed as part of AcroArmy, an acrobatic gymnastics crew that earned its way into the top three on America's Got Talent finale show at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, which aired Sept. 17.

Antoniades and her two teammates from the greater Baltimore area were back in Maryland for a few days recently before turning around and heading off to Las Vegas, where they performed with AcroArmy and other "America's Got Talent "finalists in two shows at Planet Hollywood on Sept. 26 and 27.

What comes next is up in the air.

All smiles and still excited as they talked about it, the trio agreed that they want to explore every opportunity that presents itself following the show.

The three said there may be an America's Got Talent tour that would include select contestants from the show performing at venues around the United States.

"If there is a tour, I probably won't return to competing," Antoniades said. "I want to ride this train as long as I can."

In addition to Antoniades, the other Baltimore area members are 20-year-old Emily Ruppert, and 15-year-old Hannah Silverman from Clarksville.

They have trained and competed together at Emilia's Acrobatics and Gymnastics Training Center in Columbia for the past five years. Competing as a group, the trio performs dance, tumbling and acrobatics routines set to music.

They earned the Senior Elite Women's Group National Championship title in acrobatic gymnastics in 2013 and 2014.

In the past five years, the trio has competed internationally —performing in England, France, Switzerland and Germany. The three have made their mark on the sport, earning the 2012 Junior Elite Women's Group National Championship before their Senior Elite title.

AcroArmy, made up of 18 elite acrobatic gymnasts from different parts of the country, was brought together by choreographer Arthur Davis, a two-time world champion acrobatic gymnast and finalist on the first season of America's Got Talent. The team was formed earlier this year specifically to audition for America's Got Talent.

Ruppert, who has officially retired from competing in the sport, agreed that she wanted to see what could come of their efforts on the show. She said that the group has been approached about possibly doing other tours not affiliated with America's Got Talent.

"The show just ended; it's still all fresh and new," Ruppert said. "I don't know what could happen, but we have to take advantage of anything that comes along."

Performing at Radio City Music Hall in front of a live audience of 6,000 and a national television audience of 9 million has its perks. For these gymnasts, showing America the talents and skill set of acrobatic gymnasts is one of them.

"We just want to get the sport out there and known because not many people are familiar with acrobatic gymnastics," Antoniades said. "It's a good way to promote our sport and show how great it really is."

Ruppert said it was frustrating that AcroArmy was considered a 'dance troupe' on the show. Although there are elements of dance in the routines, Ruppert said there is much more to it.

"The fact that [celebrity judge] Howie [Mandell] referred to what we were doing as a sport was awesome," Ruppert said. "We're not a dance troupe."

Ruppert added that a lot old classmates and friends reached out to her during the show. She said there was an element of satisfaction in that people were finally able to realize why she was training so hard all these years.

"People can finally see why we had to say 'no' to hanging out and doing things all those years," Ruppert said. "It really did pay off."

Beth Ruppert, Emily's mom, said, "Even though they've been doing it for so long, people don't really understand what [acrobatic gymnastics] is. These performances have given people a glimpse of it."

Antoniades said that in spite of having competed at the national and international level, that there was definitely a learning curve in performing for prime-time television.

She said the pressure was on to learn new routines very quickly — a new routine each week that included dangerous throws, jumps, catches, strength and balance.

"I think that this experience has made me a stronger person. I have learned a lot about how to work with other people that I'm not used to working with," Antoniades said.  "After several 10-hour training days, you're tired and it's stressful and people get emotional, and we had to learn how to get past that. And that's what forms the group into one. That's how you do that good every week. You learn how to work together."

Even simple things like sleeping in a strange bed, living out of a hotel and finding suitable meals presented challenges, the three competitors said.

Ruppert and Silverman laughed, teasing Antoniades about a diet consisting mainly of steak and candy during their nearly six-week stay in New York.

Sabine Antoniades, Chrissy's mom, said that she is thrilled that her daughter was able to achieve such success through her sport.

"Finally seeing her dream come true with this is very emotional," Sabine Antoniades said. "This is what she worked for her whole life, to do something with her gymnastics. I'm very proud of her."

Although they have their fingers crossed that opportunities will present themselves to allow the gymnasts to continue to perform and travel and entertain, there are back-up plans.

Antoniades, who graduated from Century High School in June, would consider returning to competing in the sport.

She said she has plans to attend college, as well, although she's not sure where or what she will study.

Ruppert has been accepted to Parsons the New School for Design in New York, and Silverman, a sophomore at River Hill High School in Howard County, will return to regular school hours and competing.

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