From the looks of her very first gymnastics maneuver at age six, no one could have ever guessed Turlock High School senior Jackie Rodriguez would go on to be the talented gymnast that she is today.
“Her first roundoff back handspring looked like death,” said Paul Mayer, Rodriguez’s coach. “A lot of kids after that first back handspring would’ve quit, but she stuck with it and persevered.”
Now, Rodriguez’s hard work over the years has paid off. The Gymnastics Unlimited athlete just punched a ticket to her fourth appearance at the regional level following a stellar performance at last weekend’s Nor-Cal State Championships, where she took home the all-around crown in the Level 8 division.
“Her consistency is what really paid off,” said Mayer. “I’m not sure if she realized she had even won.”
At the championships, Rodriguez competed in four events: uneven bars, floor, vault and balance beam. She placed second on the bars, sixth on floor, fourth on vault and second on the beam, and despite not placing first in any of the events, her overall score of 35.875 was high enough to place her at the top of the competition, taking first place in the all-around.
“I was actually really surprised because I could have done a lot better, I thought,” said Rodriguez.
She added that she typically checks how she’s doing in the competition online as the meet goes on, but this time her friend wouldn’t let her, keeping her in the dark as to how she had placed.
“She wouldn’t let me check my phone, so I didn’t know at all how I had done,” said Rodriguez.
To qualify for the Regional Championship, gymnasts must score above a 34 overall, which Rodriguez exceeded. Now she must prepare for regionals, which will take place April 7-9 in Visalia.
Rodriguez practices four days a week for a total of 13 hours, and also helps to coach young gymnasts ages 5-12 twice a week as well as the gymnasts ages 6-10 on the gym’s competitive team.
Her upcoming appearance at the Regional Championships will be her fourth, and last year she placed in the competition’s top six. This year, however, she hopes to exceed her past accomplishments.
“Hopefully I place in the top three because I’ve put a lot of work in and I’ve been really consistent lately,” said Rodriguez.
All three, and soon four, of her appearances at the regional level came after a huge setback. Rodriguez suffered a split ankle during the first meet of her eighth grade season. After sitting out for a year, she came back stronger and more determined than ever in the years since.
“When I got my x-ray back they told me I was done, so that was hard to hear,” said Rodriguez. “But then I came back. It was kind of discouraging, but it was worth it.”
After graduating from THS this year, Rodriguez plans to continue coaching at Gymnastics Unlimited, much to Mayer’s pleasure.
“The thing about Jackie is she doesn’t really look ahead or worry about what she needs to do…she doesn’t stress about anything,” said Mayer. “She says, ‘Okay I’m just going to go out and do the best I can do.”