"It feels like you're flying"
"It has been an amazing journey. Something that I never thought when she was 6 years old to where we are now at 14 and preparing to go to Nationals," Amanda Jones said of her 14-year-old daughter, Grace, who is set for the USA Gymnastics Junior Olympic Level 9 Eastern Championships in Battle Creek, MI later this week. "I'm so very proud and sometimes I just want to cry because of the accomplishments and what I've seen."
Grace, who is home-schooled by her mother, fell in love with the sport early on.
"I first realized it as a sport at Octoberfest in Rutherfordton and IGA (Isothermal Gymnastics Academy) was doing a performance," Grace said. "I looked at my mom and said that's exactly what I want to do. It just grew from there."
After that Octoberfest day, Grace jumped straight to a Level 4 (out of 10) gymnast at IGA. After a short while she moved to Precision Gymnastics in Boiling Springs, N.C. with her current coach, Sergei Tereshenko, and went immediately to Level 7. She completely bypassed Level 8 to get to where she is now.
"When I was younger you had to pull me out of the gym, I never wanted to leave," Grace said.
Now at 14, Grace works out at Precision 20 hours every week perfecting her performances. She does schoolwork until 1 p.m., eats lunch and heads to the gym from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday before coming home for dinner and sleep.
"The amount of dedication she has is amazing to me," Amanda said. "She forgoes a lot to do what she does. I admire her."
Grace's diet is even monitored to some degree.
"With the muscles she uses she has to have a good, clean diet, especially during competition season," Amanda said.
That diet usually includes a ton of protein and natural supplements, but right after a competition, all guidelines go out the door and Grace gets to eat whatever she wants.
"I can eat anything, just give it to me," Graced said with a smile.
Grace isn't the only Jones to sacrifice other things for her gymnastics career. As a single parent who lives with her mother and Grace, Amanda has made Grace's life her own.
"My life is her life. Right now it's school, gymnastics and that's about it," Amanda said. "I decided to make those sacrifices because she has a God-given talent and she has a future with it. We decided to make the sacrifices now in order for her to do what's necessary to achieve her goals."
"I'm just really blessed to have my family 100 percent in it with me," Grace added.
Grace's dreams are coming true starting with her recent first-place overall finish at the Southeast Regionals that earned her trip to Nationals.
"I'm really proud of what I've done this year," Grace said. "Nothing beats being on the first-place podium and looking down on everyone else. It feels awesome."
Colleges are already targeting Grace who admits that a scholarship is one of her top goals as a gymnast.
"The biggest shock came after she won regionals and people started telling me that I needed to get her a Youtube page, a Gym Diva page and get all her information together because colleges are going to scout her now," Amanda said. "I'm just like, 'She's 14.'"
"I've always wanted to go to Georgia for college. I always wanted to be a 'Gym Dog'. Everybody's dream is to go to Georgia," Grace said. "But now since we've competed at different colleges I'm starting to like NC State a little better."
Although Grace excels in all four gymnastic categories, vault, uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise, floor appeals the most to her.
"I don't really have a favorite but I would say I enjoy floor the most," Grace said. "I get to do a little dancing and you just feel like you're flying when you're tumbling."
"She gets to show her personality," Amanda added. "She gets to show her little facial expressions and as a spectator that's when you can see a little of their personality. I don't have a favorite. I just love to watch her in any event, but she really does shine doing floor."
Now when Grace and Amanda board a plane on Wednesday, the 14-year-old girl from Rutherford County who loves to paint, swim and play with dogs will try her best to become a national champion.
"My goal is to be top-six in all-around," Grace divulged. "Not many girls get this chance."