Originally created 07/25/99

Victorious gymnast has big dreams



It may be the goal of all 215 Georgia Games gymnastics competitors and thousands more across the country, but 10-year-old Kelsi Leonard of North Augusta knows what she wants to do as a gymnast.

"I want to be in the Olympics," Kelsi said, smiling, with five silver medals draped around her neck from Saturday's competition.

Her teammates being interviewed alongside her -- 14-year-old Monica Pidel and 10-year-old Lisa Calhoun of Augusta, and 9-year-old Haley Merritt of Martinez -- immediately responded.

"Everyone wants to do that, Kelsi," Haley said, laughing.

All four girls, who train at Gymnastics Gold in Martinez, took one more step toward whatever goals they might have in gymnastics by each receiving five medals in Saturday's Level 5 gymnastics competition at Augusta State University Athletic Complex.

Haley, Lisa and Monica won five gold medals each in beam, vault, uneven bars, the floor exercise and all-around in their respective age groups. Kelsi came in second in all five events to Lisa.

"(Saturday) was fun, that's all I got to say," said Lisa, who won the state uneven bars championship in her age group earlier in the year.

The four were in the same rotation group and did all the events together. They cheered each other on loudly.

The girls have been involved with gymnastics for at least three years. All said they were drawn to the sport primarily because they liked the way it looked.

"I went and saw my older sister competing in gymnastics and it just looked like something that I would like to do," Monica said.

Starting at a much older age than most of her peers -- 11 -- Monica said that although she has resigned herself to the fact that the Olympics may be an unattainable goal, she hopes one day to earn a college scholarship.

While Lisa, Haley and Kelsi all mention famous gymnasts as people they would like to emulate, Monica looks no further than herself for inspiration.

"I don't try to live up to others' abilities or expectations. I rely on my own abilities," she said.

The other three junior gymnasts said the Olympics is a dream but they would settle for something a little closer to home -- becoming a University of Georgia GymDog. The team has won five national championships.

Whatever the future may hold for the girls, their five medals in this year's Georgia Games are enough for now.

"I think I'm going to keep them on for a while and maybe walk into a restaurant with them," Lisa quipped.

Mark Mathis can be reached at (706) 823-3339 or newsroom@augustachronicle.com.