Healthy Vega places first in bars at Region 7 competition

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Olivia Vega of Howell Middle School South and Action Gymnastics in Freehold competes on the balance beam at the U.S.A. Gymnastics Regional 7 competition April 2 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

By Wayne Witkowski

Olivia Vega spent most of the last two frustrating years recovering from early-season injuries for Action Gymnastics in Freehold but made the most of her opportunities in a healthy campaign this spring.

The 13-year-old eighth grader at Howell Middle School South finished first in the uneven bars and was third in the all-around competition in Level 8 of the U.S.A. Gymnastics Region 7 competition April 2 in Pittsburgh. The competition pitted gymnasts from a six-state area that includes Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia.

It’s the final step of competition for Level 8. Vega now moves up to the Level 9 season, which ends in national championships.

“It was awesome. It feels great. I feel really good about it all,” Vega said of the region. “I was much more focused, especially because my coach could not be there, and I knew I had to work extra hard. I always like to do the best that I can.”

Vega said the uneven bars is her favorite of the four events, which includes balance beam, vault and floor exercise, which she also really enjoys. On the bars, she said she felt she hit her handstands well and was consistent in connecting her routines.

Vega had a winning score of 9.575 in uneven bars and a 37.25 all-around score. It included scores of 9.475 in floor exercise, 9.175 in balance beam and 9.025 in vault.

Vega’s showing was no great surprise to her family. In February, she competed in the Presidential Classic Meet at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida, and scored 9.825 in the uneven bars en route to winning the all-around.

“Her success has come at a high price,” Vega’s mom, Patti Magan, said. “Two years ago, she broke a bone in her back and was out of commission for a while. Last year, she broke her elbow and had to have surgery right away. She has had so much working against her, and I am so very happy that she’s come back against such difficult obstacles. This is the first year she’s been injury-free and able to train.

“She is just a remarkable kid.”

Despite putting in four hours a day, six days a week every week at Action Gymnastics, Vega has maintained an A average in school.

“It’s definitely really hard because I’m always in a tough schedule,” Vega said. “I come home, go to practice and I’m up pretty late with schoolwork. It’s hard to keep going, but I know I get to have practice and that’s exciting.”

The schedule does not get any easier for Vega, who already has begun practicing at Level 9 — the final step in youth competition.

She already has been working on a Yurchenko move in vault, which is the move she practiced last year when she slipped and broke her elbow. In the Yurchenko, the gymnast does a round-off onto the springboard and a back handspring onto the horse or vaulting table. The landing can go from a simple single tuck to a triple twist layout.

“The vault in regionals was hard for the skill I had to learn. Now I am learning the Yurchenko, which makes things a little easier for me,” Vega said. “I’ve already started working out at Level 9, and I’m definitely excited to compete at that next level. The coaches are moving up to new skills, and I think I’m going to be ready.”