PORTER TWP. | For Boone Grove gymnast Jessica Stahl, one truly is the loneliest number.
The sophomore is the only gymnast from her school, making practices deserted and meets isolated. While other gymnasts listen to a dozen or more teammates screaming, chanting and cheering, Stahl competes as an individual.
Her biggest cheerleader is her mom, Julie, who doubles as her coach.
“It is harder because you’re not with somebody that actually pushes you, too,” Jessica said. “There are people around you who push you, but you’re not pushed by another teammate.”
The sophomore competed at the 24th annual Valparaiso Viking Invitational on Saturday and briefly experienced what it might be like to have a teammate as she was paired with all-around champion Alex Cool, who was competing alone for Hamilton High School.
The pair pulled for each other during the various routines, cheering each other on. It made a big difference, Stahl said, one that has to be experienced to be understood.
“It just motivates you,” Stahl said. “I don’t know how to explain it. It just does.”
Stahl finished 10th overall at the meet with 31.30 points including an 8.5 in the floor exercise, which Stahl considers her strongest event. Despite a couple of costly falls on the balance beam — including one on a high-difficulty back flip stunt — Stahl said she improved the most in that event.
The lone Wolf looks forward to continuing to add new skills to her routines and eventually score a 9.0 in an event.
It has been an eye-opening experience for Julie, who is in her first season as the head coach of the program and labels her gymnastics experience as “moderate” after helping Jessica for the past six years.
“I don’t think I’ve missed too many practices,” Julie said. “I’ve had a lot of interaction with the club and the coaches there. It has been awesome.”
While it’s Julie’s job to motivate Jessica in practices and meets, the overall experience might be even more exciting and moving for the coach and mother.
“It’s actually inspiring to be coaching her and seeing her accomplishments,” Julie said. “She’s learned a lot of skills even just in the last week.
“I look for Jessica to demonstrate consistency in her scoring throughout the meets and improve some of her higher skills. She’s going to get more and more superior skills involved in her routines.”