Marquette sophomore Taylor Styer and Rockwood Valley Middle’s Connor McCool are spending this week in Florida.
No, it’s not a school break. The two West County gymnasts will be competing in the 2015 Men’s Junior Olympic National Championships at the Ocean Center Arena in Daytona Beach, Florida.
The five-day event begins Wednesday, May 6 with opening ceremonies that will feature a variety of entertainment including 2012 Olympian Sam Mikulak as the keynote speaker.
This will be Styer’s third consecutive trip to the national meet. It is McCool’s second time to qualify for the big meet but his first since he moved to West County.
Styer is a Level 10 gymnast, which is for 15- and 16-year-old athletes. McCool is a Level 9, which is for 13- and 14-year-old competitors.
The two train at St. Louis Gym Centre.
What makes Styer’s trip noteworthy is that he had to overcome an injury to qualify again. He finished second at the state meet in the all-around.
The state meet was held at Great American Gymnastics Express in Blue Springs.
“The state meet was a hard time for me,” Styer said. “It was only my third time competing all season because of injury so I was extremely nervous. Overall I did pretty well coming in second place to my teammate Alex Megahy. I was very happy for him but frustrated because I knew I could do better.
“I ended up winning the vault and parallel bars gold, so that was also a great accomplishment for me.
“I was very happy but not thrilled,” Styer said. “I knew I could have done better but I just put it aside and trained hard for regionals.”
Styer credited his coaches with guiding him to overcome his setback and get back to working.
“My coaches have helped me so much in getting back from my injury,” Styer said. “So I hurt my knee in the summer and ended up trying to push through the pain only to make it worse. I had a procedure done on New Year’s Eve and was out of the gym for a few weeks. My coaches (Don Spradling and Mike Filla) made a plan for my training and told me when I would be able to get back to competing and it worked perfectly.”
The old adage about hard work not hurting you is something Styer believes in now.
“The hard work really does pay off,” Styer said.
McCool is a 5-foot-6, 130 pounder who has been competing since 2006. His older brother, Matt, who is a junior at Lafayette, won the boys state diving championship last fall.
“I got interested in gymnastics because of my energetic personality and being inspired watching my older brother and sister do it,” McCool said.
He had a great state meet. McCool finished first in the all-around, floor exercise and vault. He was second in the horizontal (high) bar, third in parallel bars and pommel horse.
“Overall, I was pleased with my performance defending my Missouri state all-around title from last year,” McCool said.
McCool also credits his coaches with helping him achieve his goal and he said getting more mature also helped.
“Most of all, I think the way I handled the pressure this year versus the way I handled it the year prior,” McCool said. “I hit all my events at state, and instead of being worried about missing the qualifying meet for nationals, this year I focused on repeating what I did at state, and this tactic worked much better for me. I am delighted to have the opportunity to attend the national championships in Daytona Beach.”
Styer also is excited to be competing in the major meet.
“This year, especially with nationals being in Florida, it means a lot because some family that wouldn’t usually be able to see me compete might make a trip down to Daytona to see me,” Styer said. “After this year of hardships, it is so thrilling to have accomplished this goal.
“My experience will help me a lot. I now know, after the past couple of years, that it’s just better to go into this meet to have a good time. The hardest part was qualifying for nationals but now it’s time to celebrate and show off all that you can do.”