Frederick Gymnastics Club's Road to State Championship Gold

Andy Jones

Washington, D.C. may not be bidding to host the 2024 Olympic games, but there are still visions of interlocking rings in the eyes of young gymnasts in our own backyard. Follow the journey of the Level 9 Maryland State Champions, the Frederick Gymnastics Club; from practice, to competing at their home meet, the Frederick Classic on the Hill held in downtown Washington in February, to the Maryland State Championship at the Prince George's County Sports & Learning Complex near FedEx field last weekend.

Level 10 coach Heather Galpin has been teaching gymnastics for 27 years. Her daughter Carly is graduating high school this year and grabbed third place All Around. First place All Around went to 13 year old Reese McClure. Her best friend, Taylor Biss, grabbed first place for level 9 at the home meet. Taylor and Reese have been fast friends since they met at the gym five years ago and were the youngest members on the Level 7 team. They do not like competing without the other since the level 9’s and 10’s are on different schedules. After qualifying at the State Championship last weekend, these three, and their teammates, are practicing up to 22 hours a week, in preparation for the Regional Championships at the end of April.


1. Level 3 girls line up and stretch at the Frederick Gymnastics Club in Frederick, MD, during a practice leading up to the home meet in February. Mother Whitney Joseph explains that the 12 hours a week in the gym helps her 7 year old daughter, Ella, with building confidence and staying focused in school. Many of the athletes began their training at age 5.


2. Tyler Biss prepares her hands with chalk before practicing at the Frederick Gymnastics Club. She aspires to eventually compete at the collegiate level on scholarship at her top choice, West Virginia University. She is currently determined to advance to Level 10 and join her best friend Reese McClure.


3. Kaylee Donovan practices her dismount off the uneven bars at the Frederick Gymnastics Club during a practice leading up to the home meet.


4. Myrah Contento, Jordan Johnson, and Josephine Thomas practice balancing drills on the balance beam.


5. Coach Heather's daughter, Carly, performs a switch leap on the balance beam at the Frederick Gymnastics Club. Carly says "hard work with a good attitude always pays off" and she hopes the younger gymnasts see the example that she and the coaches live everyday.


6. Lauren Bolen, Kaylee Donovan, Myrah Contento, and Jordan Johnson perform handstands as a Metro train zooms by at L'Enfant Plaza. Meet director Shenalla Johnson believes holding the meet in the nation's capitol gives the overall experience more significance than simply hosting regional teams in their regular gym.


7. "I don't permit any negative thoughts in my head, and that helps me control my nerves." Samantha Betz, Level 9, prepares for the balance beam at the meet.


8. Samantha Betz performs a handspring step out on the balance beam before the judges table at the meet in Washington. As her team shouts "You can do it Sam!" from the floor, she gains confidence to perform on the beam by visualizing her successful completions at rehearsals. Betz received the silver All Around medal.


9. Head Coach Larisa Dittman spots Taylor Biss on the uneven bars during warm-ups at the meet in Washington. When Dittman came to America 20 years ago from Tallinn, Estonia, she couldn't speak English, making it difficult to land a coaching position. She then spent two years learning English at Fort Deitrick so that she could resume coaching gymnastics as soon as possible. She's been with the Frederick Gymnastics Club for the last 18 years and was named 2003-2004 Maryland Coach of the Year.


10. Coach Larisa Dittman embraces Taylor Biss, Level 9, after she finished her routine on the uneven bars at the home meet in DC. Biss nabbed third place on uneven bars and first place All Around.


11. Level 10 Coach Heather Galpin watches as Reese McClure executes a scale on the balance beam. Like her best friend Taylor in Level 9, Reese won gold on balance beam, and gold All Around. Even when they are going after the same spots on the medal stand, Biss says "the only thing that trumps gymnastics is our friendship."


12. "No matter how many times I perform on the beam, I still can't believe I'm doing it all on a four inch wide piece of wood." Samantha Betz remembers as she takes a pose on the balance beam at the meet.


13. Level 10 teammates watch as first place All Around winner Hannah Baddick performs a sheep jump on the balance beam. Hannah says "you have to be satisfied as if this if your final skill. If you get injured and can't go on, are you satisified with the last skill you completed?"


14. Myrah Contento waits for results with her Level 9 teammates. Myrah remains optimistic and seeks out challenges. She took first place on floor routine, and first place All Around for her division.


15. Frederick Gymnastics Club teammates rush the mat to congratulate Carly Galpin at the conclusion of her floor routine. As a senior this year, this is her final home meet. She won silver on floor routine, and silver All Around for her division. In the fall she will compete on West Virginia University's gymnastics team.


16. Kaylee Donovan finally gets a quick snack waiting for the medal ceremony at the Frederick Classic on the Hill gymnastics meet in Washington, D.C.


17. Carly Galpin receives a quick kiss on the cheek from her coach and mother, Heather, at her final home meet. Heather says " Gymnastics is a bond that has kept my family close for generations. My mother still goes to every one of Carly's meets. My sister coaches. All 3 of my girls consider gymnastics to be their defining sport, regardless of what they did later in life. Coaching Carly was definitely one of the most challenging things I have done. We are both strong willed and sometimes butt heads, but I have so much respect for her. I have seen how hard she has had to work to get where she is! With all the ups and downs that we have been through together in this sport, I would say that the best thing it has given us is trust. No matter what, we will always have each others backs!"


18. 13 year old Taylor Biss shoots her mom a quick glance of disbelief after she received four medals including the Level 9 gold All Around trophy. How does she prep for sweeping up so many wins? "Every morning before a meet I eat my sunny side up eggs, toast, and banana smoothie." After a meet she likes to unwind with family and friends and finally let her hair down.


19. Friends Taylor Biss (level 9) and Reese McClure (level 10) both won four medals including gold All Around. Reese says "We have a lot in common. We both think the same thoughts and can just look at each other and know what the other is thinking. There are not many differences except maybe our hair color." They do not go to the same school but their families go on vacations together.
Reese says if they were to both make it to the Olympics, you should watch out for #DoubleTrouble.


20. Sara Marie Ellis (center) entertains her teammates Taylor Biss, Reese McClure, Julia Merwin, Bailey Hall, and Lauren Bolen on the Metro on the way to the Washington Monument the day after the Level 9 team won the gold. This was the first ride on the Metro for many of the girls.


21. Members of the Level 3, 9, and 10 athletes from the Frederick Gymnastics Club visit the Washington Monument the day after the the Frederick Classic on the Hill Gymnastics meet.


22. Taylor Biss completes a needle scale in front of the Washington Monument the day after winning four individual medals, and her Level 9 team grabbed first place. "My biggest challenge at States will be controlling my nerves and not allowing it to get the best of me. Just remember to stick it!"


23. Level 10 girls from the Frederick Gymnastics Club line-up at the start of the Maryland State Championship on March 29, 2015 at the Prince George's Sport & Learning Complex near FedEx Field.


24. Level 9 McKenna Kissinger approaches the vault at full speed at the Maryland State Championship meet. Teammate Hannah Baddick explains "it's about the process, not the outcome."


25. Level 9 Myrah Contento salutes the judges after her vault. She won first place for vault, and first place All Around. Myrah amps herself up with positive sayings. "Don't feel discouraged, be courageous. Work through fear."


26. Jordan Johnson winces as chalk flies in her eyes as she remounts the uneven bars moments after a painful crash.


27. Taylor Biss performs a split ring jump. She earned first place for both the balance beam and floor routine and qualified to compete at the upcoming regional competition.


28. Reese McClure, prepares on the balance beam at the State Championship. Like Taylor, she won first place on beam, as well as vault, and grabbed first place Level 10 All Around.


29. Sara Marie Ellis performs a sheep jump on the balance beam. Sara Marie has been on the disabled list for stress fractures in her shins since November and did not compete at the home meet, but has been there every minute of practice leading up to this moment.


30. Morganne Henderickson chuckles as minutes click by, waiting for her floor routine music to finally begin.


31. Sarah Moravansky doing a layout step out on the beam.


32. Emme Rathman, Level 9 scored a 9.5 on her floor routine and tied for second place All Around. Every time before she performs, Emme prepares mentally with the affirmation "Deep breaths, chin up, head high — and smile."


33. Carly Galpin performs her floor routine as her mother, and coach, Heather beams with pride from the sidelines. "Because my mom is my coach, we spend A LOT of time together. Having someone I’m so comfortable around as a coach has definitely made me a better gymnast, but can also make it pretty easy to get a little sassy sometimes. It’s cool that outside of the gym we can still talk about gymnastics, and inside the gym we can decide what we're going to have for dinner after practice."


34. Frederick Gymnastics Club Level 9 girls win the 2015 Maryland State Championship and the Level 10 team took silver. These girls won't take a break in preparing for the Regional meet held at the end of April where they hope to qualify for the National tournament.


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