DUNMORE — Emma Kelly started practicing gymnastics not long after she learned to walk.
“I would do handstands all over the house and jump on the bed, so my mom needed a place to put me where I could do it in a safe environment,” Kelly said.
The 14-year-old from Clarks Summit, who got involved in the sport at 18 months old and started competing at age 5, is just one of several Abington area gymnasts who train in the Junior Olympic program at United Sports Academy.
Those gymnasts recently competed in the Region 7 USA Gymnastics Championships against athletes from New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.
The Level 9 and 10 gymnasts competed in Hampton, Virginia from April 7-10. The Level 8 gymnasts competed in Wingate, Pennsylvania from April 1-3.
Kelly, a Level 9 gymnast who began training at the United Sports Academy last July after moving from California, has been able to overcome previous obstacles through the guidance of the coaches.
“I’ve felt more confident in my abilities since I starting training here,” she said. “I don’t have as much fear toward certain elements of the sport.”
Coach Silvia Topalova has been impressed with the aesthetic beauty of Kelly’s performances.
“She’s very artistic and a very good dancer,” Topalova said. “She performs an athletic, beautiful floor routine.”
Kelly tied for 20th place in the vault and floor exercise, placed 22nd in the uneven bars and finished 24th on the balance beam at nationals.
According to Topalova, the staff at United Sports Academy aims to have a positive impact on the athletes in all aspects of their lives.
“We try to implement life lessons,” she said. “We teach them discipline, responsibility, overcoming difficulties, and developing consistency and self esteem.
“Our ultimate goal with the Junior Olympic girls is to get them into a good college, hopefully with a scholarship.”
Tayler Osterhout, 14, of Clarks Summit, a Level 10 gymnast, placed sixth in the balance beam and floor exercise events. She also finished 11th on the uneven bars and 13th in the vault.
“It was a great experience all together,” Osterhout said of the competing at regionals.
Osterhout, an eighth-grader at Abington Heights Middle School, began training at age 3 and has developed a strong desire to succeed.
“My mom thought it was a good idea to sign me up,” she said. “I love the competition.”
Osterhout’s favorite event is the floor exercise, specifically the tumbling aspect.
“You need to have determination to be successful,” Osterhout said.
She believes the coaches at United Sports Academy have played a big role in her development over the past five years.
“They are all super nice and have helped me improve every day,” she said.
Topalova, a two-time Olympian on the Bulgarian National team, who has served as a coach at the gym for 2 1/2 years believes Osterhout has a bright future in the sport.
“She’s very talented and is on the right path,” Topalova said. “It shows in the results and we’re working on increasing her level of difficulty. She’s a very clean gymnast with graceful, fluid moves and is also a great kid.”
Gianna Sabatini, 12, of Dalton is the youngest Level 9 gymnast at United Sports Academy.
The Abington Heights sixth-grader started taking Mommy and Me Classes when she was 18 months old.
According to Topalova, Sabatini is very mature and well-rounded for her age.
“She is very serious and gives 100 percent dedication to everything she does,” Topalova said. “She’s also a world-class pianist and a great ballerina, in addition to her gymnastics skills. She has very clear goals for what she wants to achieve. She did an exceptional job at regionals for her age and level.”
Sabatini finished in a tie for 12th on the beam, tied 13th in the floor exercise, tied for 18th on the uneven bars and tied 21st in the vault.
Sabatini’s favorite event is the balance beam, a task which demands intense concentration.
“The biggest key is to stay on, but you also need to have big jumps and amplitude,” she said. “You have to block everything else out and just think about the beam.”
Calista Marzolino, 14, of North Abington Township, a Level 9 gymnast, finished in a tie for third place on uneven bars, tied for 17th in the vault, and placed 23rd on the balance beam and floor exercise.
“She’s tough and a very good competitor,” coach Omar Egas said. “She performs well in practice, but it’s during the competitions where we see her best.”
Egas believes the uneven bars is Marzolino’s best event, despite her height.
“She very tall which can be a disadvantage for some gymnasts, but she works very hard and is not afraid,” he said.
Anna Clifton, 15, a Level 8 gymnast, placed fifth in the vault, 13th on the balance beam and 18th in the floor exercise.
The Abington Heights High School freshman began training in gymnastics at age 6 and has been training at United Sports Academy for about five years. She previously won the state championship in the vault this season.
Other than her modest personality, Clifton’s determination and will to improve stands out most in Topalova’s mind.
“She has worked really hard over the years and this has been her best season,” Topalova said. “Each year, she has looked better and better.”
The Clarks Summit resident is grateful for the expertise and encouragement from the coaches.
“They’ve really boosted my confidence and pushed me further than ever,” Clifton said. “I’ve become a better gymnast and a better person in general.”
Ivan Guertchev also coaches the Level 8, 9, and 10 gymnasts.
Dima Raynova, a member of the 1980 Bulgarian Olympic team, owns United Sports Academy in Dunmore.
Reach Robert Tomkavage at 570-704-3941 or on Twitter @rtomkavage.