Sidney Fitzgerald and Jaiyviah Mills had much different starts in gymnastics when they were 4 years old.
“I felt scared and I felt like I was going to get hurt because I just started,” said Fitzgerald, 8, a second-grader at River Ridge Elementary School in Evans. “(It took) a few weeks to get over it.”
Mills jumped in head-first.
“I kept doing cartwheels, so my mom just decided to put me in gymnastics,” the 10-year-old fifth-grader at Rollins Elementary School in Augusta said. “I just started doing them in my house.”
Though they started in different ways, both of the Hayden’s International Gymnastics Academy gymnasts ascended to the top of their competition level Nov. 12-13 at the 2011 USA Gymnastics Levels 3 and 6 Georgia State Championships in Roswell.
Fitzgerald won the vault, bars and floor in Level 3 while taking the Junior A division all-around title, while Mills won the vault and floor in Level 6 en route to an all-around championship in the Child B division.
Levels refer to the gymnast’s skill level, regardless of age. Meanwhile, the divisions are set up based strictly on the age of the gymnasts.
Cassie Hayden, daughter of gym owners Dennis and Tanya Hayden and coach of the two state champions, said that Fitzgerald and Mills have qualities that helped them ascend to the top.
The coach said striving toward perfection is something an athlete must have in this sport. She said Fitzgerald is that type of dedicated perfectionist.
“Even though she’s so young, she’s such a hard worker,” Cassie Bryant said of the 8-year-old. “She’s the type of gymnast that will come up and be like, ‘Can you watch me?’
“I’ll watch her and give her corrections, then she’ll ask me to watch her five more times, just to make sure she made that correction.”
The coach describes Mills as a “natural.” That moniker seems to fit for a gymnast who was doing cartwheels at age 4, before she even took a gymnastics class.
“With Jaiyviah, she’s just so naturally talented,” Hayden said. “She’s one of the very few gymnasts that I’ll ask her to do something, then the first time she does it, she can nail it.”
In the Level 6 competition, Hayden’s earned its top team finish: third place out of roughly 20 teams.