Gymnast a national champion
By TIM STEPHENS
PROCTORVILLE, Ohio — Abby Naegele loves the lessons gymnastics teaches her.
She loves sportsmanship and winning. She cherishes learning perseverance and winning. She relishes handling disappointment and winning.
Winning tops the list of why Naegele, 13, competes in gymnastics.
The Fairland Middle School student won big in her latest competition, taking home a national championship May 4 in the vault in Level 9 of the Eastern Junior National Championship in Tampa, Fla. Naegele, who trains at Bozhi’s Gym Nest in Huntington, won the event with a score of 9.650. She also tied for fourth in the floor exercise with a score of 9.400.
“It feels very nice to have accomplished a national championship,” Naegele said. “The hard work paid off.”
Hard work indeed. Naegele is a tireless athlete, practicing nearly daily for hours at a time and even fighting through injuries to continue competing. During competition or practice, Naegele has broken her nose, both wrists, both heels, her hip and a toe.
“Almost all my injuries were from overuse,” Naegele said. “It’s good that my dad is a pediatrician and my mom is a nurse. You use everything in gymnastics, but you’re never out of the gym if you’re injured because you can always do something. If nothing else, there’s always the trampoline.”
That’s the attitude Naegele takes into life. She detests losing and loves to prove she can win. When challenged to arm wrestle a member of the FMS football team, Naegele not only didn’t shy away from the competition, she won.
Naegele’s coach at Bozhi’s Gym Nest, former Olympic gymnast Hrabrina Spencer, said Naegele’s determination serves her well.
“She hardly ever misses practices and always is on time, ready to begin the workout,” Spencer said. “Discipline is essential to any activity involvement to ensure success.”
Spencer said Naegele’s parents, Jay and Catina, have instilled values and a strong work ethic in their daughter.
Naegele credits her parents, as well as Spencer and her husband Lance, whom the gymnast said challenge her daily. The Spencers coached former Huntington High and current University of Alabama gymnast Kayla Williams, 2009 world vault champion.
Hrabrina Spencer said Naegele reminds her of Williams.
“We call them Baba and Daddle, which means grandmother and grandfather,” Naegele said of the Spencers. “I can’t imagine my life without them. They’re tough but nice.”
Naegele began gymnastics at Bozhi’s at age 4, inspired by her sister Shelby, a senior at Fairland High School. Shelby opted for cheerleading over competitive gymnastics. Naegele also competes with her brother Alex, 15, often challenging him to foot races.
Naegele won the national title in the vault, even though it isn’t her favorite event. She said she always gives her absolute best.
“I’m very competitive,” Naegele said. “I like the floor exercise because I’m very sassy and I like to command attention. It’s good to be competitive. I love the thrill of winning.”
Still, Naegele said she realizes that competition offers more rewards than just victory. She said lessons she has learned from the sport serve her well in life.
“I’ve learned sportsmanship and that you do fall sometimes, but you get back up,” Naegele said. “I’ve learned that you don’t give up. I’ve learned to be proper. Just because I want to yell about something doesn’t mean I can. I’ve learned not to do that.”
She also learned not to quit. A series of injuries frustrated Naegele two years ago, but she stuck with the sport.
“Abby almost quit the sport due to a couple of injuries in a row kept her from competing fully at practice and competing for two-thirds of the season,” Hrabrina Spencer said. “The following year, she had another injury that prevented her from finishing the season again. It takes a strong individual to persevere and overcome difficulties when most give up and she has done it at a very young age.”
Spencer said Naegele is looking at a very bright future five years before graduating high school. Spencer predicted Naegele will follow Williams’ steps to a full scholarship at a major university. Naegele said she favors the University of Alabama, but also likes the University of Georgia, LSU and UCLA.
Naegele, who loves to travel, said she admires former Olympic gymnast Jordan Wieber, but whether such lofty heights are in her future is to be determined. For now, Naegele said she is focused on reaching Level 10, the highest level of amateur gymnastics competition. She also wants to compete in, and win, the Junior Nationals Championship.
A strong student, Naegele said she is about more than just gymnastics. While she said she doesn’t have much time for boys at the moment, she likes spending time with her family and friends. She also enjoys math.
“I like solving things,” Naegele said. “I like solving variables. I like writing, too, but I’m not a very good speller.”
Naegele’s ultimate goal doesn’t involve a gold medal or judge’s stand. She wants to be a Emergency Room physician.
“I’m used to blood from all the injuries I’ve had,” Naegele said, chuckling. “Gymnastics sets me up for actual life and I’ve wanted to be an ER physician for so long.”
Formerly home schooled, Naegele said she loves Fairland, even though the school doesn’t offer a gymnastics program.
“The school has been so good to adjust to my schedule,” Naegele said. “They make sure I have my work to do when I’m traveling. The teachers here are very good. I couldn’t ask for better teachers.”
Naegele said she’d give them a 10.0 score.
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