By Derrick Knutson
The difficult jumps, turns and twists Emily Leibke executes during gymnastic competitions look almost effortless.
She flips between the uneven bars, deftly dances from one end of the balance beam to the other and swiftly bounds across the mat during floor programs with a grace many gymnasts never achieve.
The North Branch Area Middle School seventh-grader is just 13 years old, but she’s already close to being an elite gymnast.
Emily competed at the Region 4 Gymnastics Championships at the Minneapolis Convention Center April 22 and placed first on balance beam, third on the uneven bars and ended the day with a third all-around ranking.
Emily’s mother, Lisa, said about 500 gymnasts from seven states competed in the event, and there were about 60 apiece in each of the events Emily completed.
A natural knack
Emily said the coaches she’s worked with since she stared gymnastics at age seven have told her she learns skills very quickly.
“She has a lot of natural talent, that’s for sure,” Lisa said.
Along with that talent is a steadfast work ethic.
December through April, Emily competes almost every weekend and spends numerous hours practicing during the week.
Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays she’s in the gym, 4:30 to 8:30 p.m., honing her skills.
Summer is the off-season, but she still trains about 12 hours a week and participates in gymnastics camps.
That hard work has paid off in the form of recent success. In addition to her accomplishments at the Region 4, Emily went to the state competition this year and placed second all-around in the 13-17-year-old age group.
Currently, she’s at a level eight in terms of skill.
Lisa started gymnastics in middle school at age 12 and made it to a level eight by age 17.
Emily will be a level 9 next year, and from there it’s only one more step to the most elite echelon.
Lisa jokes with her daughter that she’s “already better” as a gymnast than Lisa ever was.
Emily said she has a passion for the sport and hopes to continue with it as long as she can.
Ideally, Emily said she’d like to become a gymnastics coach once her competing days are over.
Emily’s coach, Dianne Meier, told Lisa after the Regional 4 that Emily will go far with the sport because she has “the dedication, heart and attitude of a champion.”