Jaci Tompkins may only be 10, but the Ludowici gymnast, a level 7 team member of the Leaps and Bounds Gymnastic Center in Jesup, is filled with determination after coming up a few points shy of qualifying for a recent regional tournament.
Tompkins competed at the state level championships on March 27 in Marietta. Her coaches Vanessa Kuhns, Jodie Clackler and Ashley Thompson said Tompkins started strong on floor exercise and uneven bars, and put up a fair score on vault. All Tompkins needed was to place well on the balance beam for a chance to compete at the regional level.
Tompkins had good reasons for feeling confident in her beam routine. She had scored many 9s and above on the beam in her career before.
In fact, she had been dubbed the "beam queen" at the end of the 2008-09 season by her coaches. The engraving on the hot pink iPod that her aunt gave her for Christmas boasts the words ‘beam queen.’
"Nowhere in gymnastics is Jaci more beautiful than on the balance beam," her mother, Melody Tompkins, said.
But this was state and Tompkins had apparently developed a mental block on beam. Her coaches said she recently began to pause between her back walk-over and her back handspring instead of "connecting" the two skills without a pause. Without the connection, valuable points would be deducted from the routine.
Her coaches worked on getting Tompkins to a point where she can trust her ability.
"Jaci is a perfectionist," Thompson said. "If a move doesn’t feel just right to her, she stops herself even though she can finish the skill and make it look great."
At state, Tompkins paused again and the points deduction cost the regional tournament.
"I just wanted to make the best of a bad situation, so I pulled my head together and I got tight," Tompkins said about her pause midway through her beam routine.
Her coaches say she went on to throw a textbook back handspring, sticking the land on the beam and finished the rest of her routine solid.
"I missed regionals by .175 of a point because I chose not to connect on beam," the gymnast said. "I had a trial run this season at the optional level and I really didn’t understand what it would be like before the season started. I had a goal to qualify for and compete at state and here I am. I never really allowed myself to believe I could conquer a regional qualifying score, and that was a mistake. My goals are different now. Next season I know I will compete at regionals."
While she is proud of what she has accomplished, no one is more proud than her biggest fan.
"She’s my tough girl," her dad said. "She has worked so hard in the gym, over 15 hours each week, and her school grades are excellent. We are so proud of her."