I was born in Lancaster County and lived with my mother and father until age two. Shortly after my brother was born, my parents divorced. For a short time after my grandmother died, my mother, with my brother and me, moved in with my grandfather. He soon remarried, and we found another place to live. For several years when I was young, my mother worked full-time. We enjoyed the time with my grandparents while she was at work. We frequently spent time with them after school and occasionally walked to their house where my mother picked us up later. My grandparents were significant influences in my life at that time. When I was nine years old, my mother met a gentleman who attended our church. They were married the following year, and my new father formally adopted my brother and me as his children. We relocated from Mountville to New Holland, Pennsylvania, and began a new life.
While living in Mountville, I developed an interest in gymnastics. The elementary school I attended had a lot of gymnastics equipment, and I thoroughly enjoyed doing gymnastics in gym class. In fourth grade, I enjoyed watching an older student swing between the parallel bars and push himself up, over one of the bars, and off the side for a dismount. At recess, I observed other students: a boy who frequently walked around on his hands and a girl doing handsprings. I spent hours balancing on my hands for as long as I could and attempting to walk as far as possible without falling. My efforts did not always end well. Once while walking around the living room, I fell into the TV and broke the power knob. TVs at that time did not have remote controls, and from that point on, the TV required needle-nose pliers to turn on and off or adjust the volume. Every year, the fifth and sixth grade students presented a gymnastics show for the school. Although only in fourth grade, I performed a floor routine with skills I had learned in gym class. It was my first gymnastics routine. I was unaware at the time, but that was only the beginning, with many more yet to come.
As a family, we visited a gymnastics camp in Woodward, Pennsylvania. This event helped to spark my interest in competitive gymnastics. After my parents were married, I was thrilled to learn that there was a gym in New Holland and that I would be able to take classes. When my parents took me to register, I watched a boy around my age swinging to a handstand on the parallel bars. Before long, we would be teammates and friends.
That year, I also remember watching gymnastics in the 1984 Olympics and trying to imitate things that I had seen performed by the athletes. I spent hours trying to learn a press handstand from a seated position. Eventually, I succeeded and went to my instructor and soon-to-be-coach Larry and said, “Watch this.”
A couple of months after beginning classes, Larry presented me with an opportunity to join the prep team. I committed to practicing two nights a week, instead of just one, and would be able to learn routines and begin to compete. I now recognize the commitment that my parents had made and wonder if they realized at that time the magnitude of the decision at hand. I am immensely thankful for all they did for me over the years following that initial investment.
The week before joining the team, I had attended the Friday night football game at Garden Spot High School. It was a fun evening and I thought these games might become a regular hangout. Following that night, however, I rarely made it back, soon finding myself in the gym between twelve and fifteen hours per week. These and other sacrifices were ones I was more than willing to make.
As a ten-year-old, I began competing as a class IV gymnast, based mostly on my age. Age and skill level determined placement from class VI to class I, and eventually the elite level for the most experienced gymnasts. That first year, I easily qualified to compete at state championships. With a couple of months remaining before states, I began to learn the class III routines. At the year’s final state qualifier, I had the opportunity to compete as a class III, a challenge I eagerly embraced and proceeded to qualify for states that first year at a class III as well as IV level. I opted to compete as a class III at states, where I qualified for and went on to compete at the regional competition.
It was clear that God had given me a natural ability in gymnastics, and I was excited about where it might take me. I wondered if I might someday compete in the Olympics.