Lone Star to Northern Star
Vt. Sending Donahue to Regionals
Destiny Donahue, 14, center, teaches a recreational gymnastics class at Northern Lights Gymnastics in Wilder yesterday. A Texas native, Donahue will represent Vermont at a major regional tournament later this month after claiming a state championship. (Valley News - Libby March)
Destiny Donahue (Valley News - Libby March)
Wilder — The saying is that everything is bigger in Texas — and gymnastics is no exception.
Doubters might confer with 14-year-old Destiny Donahue, a Houston-area native who’s gone from competing with dozens of fellow gymnasts in her level and age group in the Lone Star State to exactly six at the Vermont State Championships at Bellows Falls Union High School last month.
Even in the small field, Donahue stood out. The Level 8 floor-and-beams specialist from Northern Lights Gymnastics placed first overall among the more than 300 competitors on hand at states, earning the top spot on Vermont’s “Super Team,” a combination of the event’s seven highest scorers, regardless of age or division.
Fellow Hanover resident Victoria Vincelette (tied for third overall) also made Vermont’s Super Team, which is gearing for USA Gymnastics’ Region VI Championships on April 27-28 in Burlington, Mass. Region VI includes New England and New York.
“It’s just so much more intense (in Texas),” said Donahue, a Hanover High freshman who moved to the area with her parents last spring. “The meets are packed, and most girls train for about 30 hours per week. It’s a lot harder to place well (at states).”
It’s the second time qualifying for a regional event for Donahue, who had already reached Level 8 three years ago when she emerged from the Texas State Championships for a spot in the Region III finals in Colorado. She placed 13th in her age group.
Donahue stepped away from the sport for two years after that, the first to “do some volunteering and help my family,” the second while taking up cheerleading at her middle school in Katy, Texas, 30 miles west of Houston. It was Donahue’s first time experimenting with cheering, yet she was elected as her team’s flyer — as in, the one getting hurled into the air most frequently or keeping steady at the top of human pyramids — at Wood Creek Junior High.
“I wanted to do something that was a school activity, and cheerleading seemed like it would make sense because it has some similarities (to gymnastics),” Donahue noted. “I was excited just to be one of 12 who made the team.”
Having already performed at Northern Lights while growing up summering on Lake Morey, Donahue decided to give gymnastics another whirl when her family moved to the Upper Valley permanently last spring. NLG owner and coach Jill Vanderpot was glad she did.
“We’d seen her before, but we could tell she had a lot of poise and presence when she came in last year,” said Vanderpot, whose gym is sending four additional competitors to regionals. “Her grace and beauty were evident right away. Her routines look very finished, polished and natural.”
Donahue’s floor routine includes three passes, a series of tricks strung together. She begins the first with a round-off — a high-speed cartwheel — before lunging into a back handspring and flip. The second includes punch fronts — running with a quick stab into the ground before flipping — and the third an impressive running front handspring.
Donahue earned a meet-high 9.225 points on the floor and second on beams, the latter emphasizing style and grace, much like floor, but with the crucial added component of balance.
“I’ve always loved balancing on things,” she said. “Ever since I was little, if I saw a banister or anything (narrow and flat), I’d have to balance on it.”
The second runner-up at a recent Miss New Hampshire Teen pageantry contest in Concord has always favored the grace and beauty aspects of gymnastics. She’ll need to improve her overall strength to make strides in bars and vault, where she was sixth and tied for ninth at states, respectively.
“It’s a big step up, to go from Level 8 to Level 9; you have to add skills in each event,” Vanderpot said. “We’re going to be working on cleaning up some stuff on the bars.”
Added NLG coach Yuri Volodin, “Considering she was away from the sport for almost two years, she’s been very good. She’s very focused; she just needs to get stronger.”
For now, Donahue is happy to be preparing for regionals, to be held at the home gym of 2012 Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman and former U.S. national team competitor Alicia Sacramone.
Donahue wants to show that even those hailing from gyms in Vermont can pack a punch flip.
“It’s been great coming back to the sport somewhere where it isn’t as intense, but I still want to have Vermont well-represented,” Donahue said. “People might not be expecting it, but I am.”
Jared Pendak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3306.