GUILFORD LAKE, Ohio – When Sara Stryffeler was born, she weighed just 5 pounds and a few ounces.
Eighteen years later, the United Local senior is 5 feet 2 inches tall and 120 pounds – the small stature is perfect for someone doing backflips, somersaults and handstands on a balance beam as wide as a remote control.
Over the Fourth of July, Sara, daughter of Don and Leanna Stryffeler, traveled to the Niagara Falls Convention Center in New York with her Alliance YMCA gymnastics team to compete in the National YMCA Gymnastics Championship. Teams from YMCAs from across the country traveled to Niagara Falls this year to flip and tumble their way to first place.
Sara could only train three months for the event because she was sidelined by a sprained ankle for five weeks back in March. She got to go to the meet by earning two overall qualifying scores at her meets during the season.
At the national competition, Sara did her usual four events: uneven bars, balance beam, vault and floor exercise.
After the first day of the meet, Sara wasn’t confident in her performance.
“I thought I was eliminated,” she said. “I didn’t think I did that good.”
However, when her coach knocked on her hotel door and told her she was moving on to the next day, Sara was ecstatic and quickly ran to her parent’s room to tell them the news.
“We were up past midnight that night,” Leanna Stryffeler, her mother, said, referring to the family’s excitement.
Competition. The next day, the Guilford Lake gymnast swung from the uneven bars, balanced on the balance beam, sprung from the vault and flipped her a way through the floor exercise.
At the end of the meet, Sara surprised herself by placing in the top one-third, 40th out of 137 girls – the only gymnast from Ohio to place in the top 60 in that age group.
“I never thought I would make it that far,” she said.
Along with her finish at the national competition, Sara has racked up many gymnastic awards. She doesn’t know how many exactly, but a shelf filled with trophies hangs above her bed and two boxes of trophies rests in her closet. Throw in an uncountable number of ribbons and her six-year gymnastic career has been a successful one.
Post game. After a meet, Sara needs one thing: Food.
This small gymnast has quite an appetite, too. After a meet, she went to Ponderosa and made several trips to the buffet. Filling her plate so many times, the restaurant manager approached the table and asked, “Is that little girl really eating all that food?”
“We always laugh about that,” her mom said.
Out of her four events, Sara said she hates the uneven bars, but loves the floor exercise.
“I can do so many different things out there,” she said.
Preparation. Sara drives to the Alliance gym and trains three to five times a week to perfect her routine and runs on her family’s 210-acre sheep farm to build endurance.
All the farm work she does on the 200-head sheep farm doesn’t hurt either.
Whether she is baling hay or castrating sheep, Sara is not afraid to get her hands dirty.
One day, a sheep was having trouble giving birth and Sara’s parents needed a small hand to get the lamb out of the womb. They called Sara at school. She came home pulled the lamb out, showered and went back school. She has performed the tasks many times since then.
As a member of the What’s Up 4-H club, Sara showed a dairy beef feeder and carcass lamb at the Columbiana County Fair this week, winning the junior showmanship award for her dairy beef feeder a few years ago.
The student council member and former prom queen will graduate next May and college is in the future and Sara would like to continue with gymnastics. However, which college is still a question mark.
“I like Brockport College in New York, but (my mom) wants me to stay closer to home,” she said.
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