One step inside the American Kids Sports Center in northwest Bakersfield and the size of the place immediately stands out. "If you go up to the Olympic training center in Colorado Springs it's only half the size of this," said Tom Ladman, head coach of the boys gymnastics team at AKSC.
Ladman has been around gymnastics his whole life but says the biggest difference for gymnasts today is with safety. "This is basically an extreme sport and anybody who does an extreme sport recognizes that there are dangers."
In the past only physically mature kids could even consider doing events like the rings. But thanks to new foam pits, the abilities and confidence of younger kids can grow. "Now we teach those same skills to seven year olds,"
Troy Holman is one of those seven year olds who stands out. He says he's been doing gymnastics since he was just 8 months old and recently finished 4th at regionals only losing to 8 year olds.
But while Troy stands tall despite his stature, he's not the one making history.
Of the ten kids who have ever qualified for nationals from Bakersfield only one can say they've placed. But 12 year old Aidan Meyers isn't quite ready to tell us more. "He's a shy boy he really is," said his mom, Sharleen Zutta. "But when he's on competition mode his face actually turns and you can see him start concentrating, start doing the maneuvers in his head and then it's showtime and he's on."
Aidan just placed fifth at the junior nationals in Battle Creek, Michigan. So can we expect to see him in one of the next Olympic cycles? "If he doesn't have that possibility of being one of the top kids down the road than I don't know who is," said Ladman.
While coach says it's possible, his mom says he's just enjoying the ride. "He's a well rounded boy so it's not just all I want to do is gymnastics, I want to go to the Olympics. No he sees himself in the future--he's already thinking he wants to be an engineer," Zutta said.
So while California has long been thought to have some of the greatest gymnasts in the country, now, thanks to Troy and Aidan, Bakersfield is among the best.
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