Sunday, July 20, 2014

Local gymnast places first at Nationals - By Michelle Libby

Sam Roach is only 13 years old, but already he holds a National Championship title in the all-around gymnastics category, which he earned in May during the meet held in California. 
Sam will be in the eighth grade at Greater Portland Christian School is South Portland. Sam and his mom, Renee, and father Gary and his two brothers Ben and Josiah, live in Windham.
Sam has been involved in gymnastics since he was 3 years old. 

“He was active from the time he was born,” said Renee. “At 2 years old he was doing somersaults on the floor and climbing on things.” She decided to take him to an open gym in Westbrook to climb on things that would be safe. When he was five, Sam was asked to join the boys’ team, but Renee said “no”. The following year, she said “yes” and Sam never looked back. 

He competes in all six mens events: Floor event, pommel horse, still rings, vault, parallel bars and the high bar. “I do all the events. I like the rings the most. I came in second in rings at Nationals and second in vault,” Sam said. 

Scoring in gymnastics takes some practice to understand, but the family has it down and knows what moves earn an athlete extra points and what moves deduct points. An A-skill is the easiest, like a backflip with no hands. A G-skill is the hardest, like a round off, back handspring, an Arabian, half turn, two flips laid out with a full twist. 

Sam was competing at a level eight for this past season. Next year he will move up and compete with 13- and 14-year-olds at level nine. Although he has to compete in his age division, he trains five times a week three and a half hours a day with juniors and seniors in high school at Kennebunk’s gymNation. Twice a week he travels to Massachusetts with his team to use equipment that his gym doesn’t have. His coach, Steve Randall, is friends with the Massachusetts coach, Sam said, giving the team the ability to workout with them.  

To qualify for the national meet, Sam had to do well at the state level, since he was the only one competing in his level he moved on to regionals. At the regional meet in Braintree, Massachusetts, he completed against 60 to 70 guys from New England, placing second in the all-around. 

Going into Nationals, he had one goal. “I wanted to hit all my routines without falling,” he said. Nerves were not a factor. “Nobody expects anything from me because I’m from Maine.” 

Sam’s routines are generally 45 seconds to 1 minute long and he designs them himself. He knows the element groups and what skills are in them and what he is good at. When he learns a new skill, he tries to put it into his routine.  

After the first day of national competition, Sam was in fourth place, one point behind the leader.
“We talk tenths of points and hundredths of points in these competitions,” said Renee. 

 Sam does each routine one step at a time, he said. “If think ‘hmmm, this stadium is really nice’, you’re not going to be focused on your routine.” 

After the fifth rotation, he was still in fourth place. “I hit all my routines. It was the best I’ve ever done,” he said. His last event was the pommel horse. He nailed his routine and won by .75. 

“A tenth of a point could be two or three places,” said Renee. Sam earned a gold medal for his efforts and he brought it home to his closet full of medals, trophies and ribbons from his other competitions He plans to add to those in the future. 

Sam is a year-round gymnast. He competes from December to May. And already has one special meet on his calendar. “I would really like to go to the Olympics in 2020,” he said. He also plans to go again when he’s 23 years old. Sam has thought about colleges and has picked out a few with good gymnastics programs. However, he’s not sure what he wants to study.

“Gymnastics is my commitment,” he said. 

“Sam doesn’t have a lot of time for other stuff,” said Renee. “Gymnastics is definitely an all body sport. Not just muscle. It’s flexibility, coordination and mind. All these have to come together. Gymnastics is his choice, not ours. There are a lot less expensive sports.” 

The best part of gymnastics for Sam is “Being on a team with all my friends and being able to workout with them and have a good time.”

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