Elite level acrobatics

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Swarthout, Newlon, Smiley-Rooney place fourth at Nationals

Bella Swarthout, Sarah Newlon, and Shay Smiley-Rooney form a three-girl acrobatic gymnastic team that traveled to Nationals in Milwaukee and finished fourth. The trio represented the Central Coast, having one girl from Paso Robles, one from Atascadero and one from San Luis Obispo, and train out of the Legacy Training Center in SLO. The three girls teamed up in July of 2016 and have grown close. Newlon, 24, is the oldest member of the team and makes up the base with Smiley-Rooney, 16. Swarthout, 12, is in seventh grade and is the youngest member of the team and serves as their flyer.

“The three girls shared a unique relationship because of their age difference and past experience with acrobatics,” Legacy Acro Gymnastics owner and the girl’s coach Audra Gustin said. “Sarah competed in acro for over 10 years as a base, mostly focused on women’s pair. Shay had competed for six years going from level seven all the way up to elite as a top and won gold representing the USA internationally in Poland.”

Coming into last year, both girls were looking for a new team. Smiley-Rooney used to fly through the air but her bases all graduated high school and relocated and as she continued to get older she grew too tall to stay as a top. Newlon had taken a year off from training in acro but came back and was a perfect fit to base for the group.

Two thirds of the team was set with Newlon and Smiley-Rooney both coming into the season as accomplished, seasoned acrobats, but both too tall to act as the top of a trio. Together they formed a perfect base and just needed one more piece to complete their team.

Swarthout has only been competing in acrobatics for two years and was new to Legacy. Her ability to learn quickly coupled with her fantastic attitude and work ethic, gave Swarthout a shot at becoming the missing piece that the trio needed.

“Last season was only Bella’s second year competing acro,” Gustin said. “She started in a level eight women’s pair and then moved up to the elite level in a very short time. We had other tops who could have fit in the position, but Bella showed the most enthusiasm, hardest work ethic and most improvement by far.”

After some deliberation, the trio was formed and the team of Swarthout, Newlon and Smiley-Rooney began practicing five days a week. The dynamic of having three girls who are in distinctly different phases of life could be a troublesome one. Each girl could be worried about different things that each of them are going through, but together the girls formed a supportive, hardworking group that could count on each other. 

“Both bases were huge role models for Bella, she was only 11 when she began training with Shay who is 16 years old and Sarah who is 24,” Gustin said. “Bella was not only learning from her coaches but also from her partners; while physically growing and mentally developing as a high-level athlete.”

As the trio grew closer, their scores began to reflect their cohesion. Acrobatic gymnastics is unique in that attitude and personality matter as much as the technical skills involved. The group will perform a floor routine complete with dancing, throwing girls in the air and seemingly impossible human pyramids. In a setting this intimate a rift between teammates can become a canyon over the course of a routine.

Through the direction of her coaches and teammates, Swarthout began the youngest elite level top in the state of California. As the experience for their youngest member grew, so did the entire team.

The three girls traveled to the state competition earlier this year and finished in fourth place overall. Their fourth place finish qualified them for regionals where the girls finished second in the entire western half of the United States. For their final masterpiece, the trio traveled to Milwaukee to compete in Nationals. All three girls put together a fantastic performance and together they finished fourth overall. 

Acro is not yet recognized as an Olympic sport, but is currently in the Junior Olympics and will hopefully make it’s way to the big show in the next 8-10 years.

All the acro teams at Legacy Gymnastics have began searching for new partners to form new teams in preparation for next year.

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