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A medal-worthy performance: Dearing's Abigayle Kelley competes in 2007 AAU Gymnastics National Championships

Little Abigayle Kelley loves setting her sights high. In July, she looked up to her heart's content when she visited Tampa to compete in the 2007 Amateur Athletic Union Gymnastics National Championships held in the Tampa Convention Center.

"My favorite part was probably all the tall buildings. There was a lot of big buildings in Florida," Abigayle said.

Abigayle's mother, Paige, said the family stayed on the 15th floor of a 32-story hotel, along with about 15 others from Gymnastics Gold, the gym in Martinez where Abigayle trains for 12-15 hours each week.

Abigayle, who said she is "fixing to turn 8," placed fifth place all-around in the competition for her age and level. According to the AAU website, Abigayle placed second in the uneven bars event with a score of 9.075, third on the vault with a score of 9.375, fifth on the floor exercise with an 8.75 and eighth on the balance beam with an 8.475.

"Probably the beam is the hardest," Abigayle said. "Sometimes when I do splits on the beam, it's hard because it's kind of high. And when you drop off, it hurts because the mat they have down is kind of hard because it's holding the beam up."

This is Abigayle's third year to qualify for and compete in the national competition. Last year's championship was held in Minnesota with close to 1,000 competitors. According to the website, there were 1,500 competitors from California, Iowa, Rhode Island, Georgia Ohio and Florida in this year's championship event.

"Our goal was to break the top 10," Mrs. Kelley said. "And you pray and hope that you break the top 10, and she did way over what we expected. Because there's just a lot of kids there, there are tons. It's always harder to compete in Florida than anywhere else because it is more competitors and because it is a higher skill level."

But the tall buildings, large crowds and intense competition did not intimidate the second grader from Dearing. "It's easy to me," she said.

It is this attitude that baffles her parents. Whenever they go to meets and her daughter wins a first place medal, Mrs. Kelley said Abigayle pulls the medal off as soon as the ceremony is over and "throws it in her bag and doesn't look at it again."

"She's pretty humble about it, actually," Mrs. Kelley said. "Her favorite thing of the whole trip was she got to see giraffes. She just loves giraffes. I got tons of pictures of her looking at the giraffe at the zoo."

When she wasn't looking up at giraffes and skyscrapers, Abigayle was looking down. And she was still having fun.

"My favorite event is the bars and it's my strongest," she said. "Because I get to do cool stuff on there. I can jump up to the high bar, and there's a lot of cool things I can do on it. I like being up high. A lot of stuff that you do in gymnastics is cool."

Web posted on Thursday, August 30, 2007

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