In the world of gymnastics, simply earning the right to compete on a national level is anything but easy.
For the first time at Hayden's International Gymnastics Academy, two local gymnasts got that chance last weekend at the 2006 USA Gymnastics Junior Olympic Women's National Championships.
Megan Mashburn, a junior at Greenbrier High School, and Christi Fortunato, a senior at Lakeside High, both earned the right to compete at the national championships in Oklahoma after successful showings in regional competition in Atlanta.
"I was a bit nervous, and I really wanted to make it," Mashburn said of the regional competition. "I had no clue that I made it till the meet was over."
Mashburn did make it with a third-place performance on the vault and sixth-place showing in all-around competition. Fortunato took first place in all-around competition at state and fifth at the regionals.
The performances from both girls were good enough to place them in the nation's top level 10 gymnasts with a trip to Oklahoma for the national championships.
"It's the best of the best - the top 60 participants in the nation," said Fortunato, who earned a trip to the national championship for the second year in a row. "I was really nervous last year, but this year I'm a lot stronger."
Fortunato finished the weekend placing 54th out of 56 gymnasts in Senior D competition. It was Mashburn, who was at the national championship for the first time, who took the spotlight.
Mashburn finished No. 7 in the vault out of 56 gymnasts in Senior B competition. The junior scored a 9.575 on the vault for an overall finish of 33rd place.
Dennis Hayden, owner and director of Hayden's, said the chance to compete at one of the top gymnastics competitions in the nation is an honor in itself.
"It's a huge celebration in a lot of ways," he said. "You train for so many years to get to the top and this is it. They were both striving for this goal.
Mashburn, who is still only a junior, has yet to decide where she will compete in college.
Fortunato, who is a senior, has already earned a spot on the national champion women's gymnastics team at the University of Georgia.
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