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Mountain Area gymnasts gaining attention

Ben Johnson works on the pommel horse at V-Force Elite Gymnastics. His coach feels he has a chance for a Junior Olympic national title next year.
Ben Johnson works on the pommel horse at V-Force Elite Gymnastics. His coach feels he has a chance for a Junior Olympic national title next year. Special to Sierra Star

Three Coarsegold gymnasts are gaining the attention of Northern California Junior Olympic officials and coaches.

Competing at a high level, Caleb Gurman, 10, Kaiden Little, 14, and Ben Johnson, 16, are all members of V-Force Elite Gymnastics, located near Valley Children’s Hospital in Madera.

Gurman attends Rivergold Elementary School and recently competed in his first state championships held in San Luis Obispo, placing fourth overall in Level 4, after placing second on pommel horse and third on high bar. Junior Olympic levels are one through 10, with 10 being the highest level.

“Caleb has a long road to travel but he is on the right path to do great things in this sport,” said coach Athena Zinich, director of men’s programs at V-Force.

Little, who will be a sophomore at Minarets High School in the fall, placed seventh overall in Level 5 at the state championships after placing first in vault, and fourth on high bar.

Little, as well as Gurman and Johnson, went on to compete in the Region 1 meet in May in Santa Clara, competing against gymnasts from Hawaii, California, Arizona, and Utah.

“Kaiden did exceptionally well improving upon his all-around scores, and he is getting excited about training for the next level,” Zinich said.

Zinich says Region 1 has the toughest competitors in the nation. Winners at the meet usually go on to win a national titles.

A third member of the team is Ben Johnson, a junior at Yosemite High School, who took up gymnastics just three years ago. He also participated in the state championship meet.

He competes at Level 8 and like Gurman and Little, the Region 1 meet concluded the season. All three will resume training in December.

While in season, Johnson trains four hours a day, four days a week at the V-Force gym. His two strongest events are floor and high bar.

“It’s a great gym and I’m happy to be coached by Athena who is helping me improve daily,” Johnson said. “My goal is hopefully to get good enough to earn a college scholarship.”

Zinich feels Johnson, who also dives for the Yosemite High swim team, will have a shot at a national title next year.

“Not just anyone is capable of competing at this level as the qualification process is extremely difficult and a long, rigorous road,” Zinich said. “These boys have a deep competitive spirit and spend long hours daily in the gym training with us. Their hands are raw from getting rips on the bars, their muscles are exhausted from conditioning , the strength it takes to be able to do these elements is massive ... these guys are inspiring. They have an old school air about themselves - they are fierce and know what they want and get after it.”

The men’s program at V-Force is in its building stage as it was introduced at the gym just two years ago.

“It says a lot to have such strong competitors right out the gate,” Zinich said. “These athletes are surrounded by a phenomenal coaching staff, we have a great dedication to our kids and have goals and expectations set in place not for them, but with them. It is of great importance that they have a strong say in what it is they want to accomplish in their career.”

The gym is owned by Megan Hergenroether and her sister Katlyn Walls.

“We are looking for the next generation of young men that want to learn how to fly,” Zinich said.

In addition to training highly competitive gymnasts, the club also offers a recreational program for children, specializing in fun and fitness, and offers a free introductory session for those who want to see the program.

Details: V-Force Elite Gymnastics, 40429 Brickyard Dr. (off Highway 41 near Valley Children’s Hospital), (559) 447-1609.

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