Nine-year-old Kurt Garcia-Edinger has no problem holding up his own weight over parallel bars, and using his forearms and biceps to propel him into forms that defy gravity.
"The assumption is that this is kid, what are they going to do, really?" Kurt's mother, Joana Garcia, said. "They are little guys but they have so much strength."
Kurt, like 14 other boys in the Capital Gymnastics Level IV Boys Team ranging in age from 8 to 10, develop their strength and flexibility in regular 2-hour long training sessions four times a week.
The team heads to the Virginia State Championships this weekend in Richmond, which practices out of the Capital Gymnastics National Training Center in Burke.
Kurt said he got started in gymnastics when his family noticed that he had a tendency to jump and crawl on everything.
“He was bouncing all over the house,” Joana Garcia, said. "We felt it would be safer if he learned how to do it correctly. And that’s why we got him involved.”
His parents signed him up for classes in 2010 and the Silverbrook Elementary School third grader is already showing off his new skills.
“At school they have bars in recess and I always do bizarre tricks,” Kurt said. “It’s just fun.”
Despite Kurt’s off-the-clock tricks, formal gymnastics classes at Capital Gymnastics are no joke.
“The main thing they develop is focus, strength, and flexibility,” said Carlos Vazquez, head coach of the men’s gymnastics division. He has coached gymnastics for 23 years.
Athletes are divided into levels IV through X (four through 10). At the beginner’s level, where Garcia-Edinger trains, gymnasts train about 8 hours a week. Top-level athletes spend about 20 hours a week in the gym.
“At level four, we try to give them some discipline and give them focus,” Vazquez said. “They have a tendency to want to go on the trampoline.”
At one recent training session, there was little horsing around among the boys, who train on the vault, floor exercises, parallel bars and high bars. They are guided and corrected on their skills but seem to be right at home on each platform.
Steve Scheinman, head of the boys team, said that discipline breeds discipline.
“I try to keep them as busy as possible,” Scheinman said. “I start out with giving them small track and having them build on that.”
“There are kids who have the work ethic but not the talent…if they do get to the Olympics it’s 15 years down the road,” Scheinman said. “There are some with the ability but they may go through puberty and get really big, which is a problem.”
Most boys in gymnastics at Level IV are not sure yet where they plan to go with their gymnastics. Vazquez points out that there are only a handful of colleges in the country that offer scholarships for male gymnasts.
“It’s very competitive,” Vazquez said.
Aaron Taliaferro, whose 10-year-old son, Caleb is in the Level IV group, said that Caleb will continue to be involved in gymnastics for as long as he enjoys it and as long as the family can afford it. Three-month sessions run for $690 and do not include competition fees and other related costs. He does say, however, that the skills Caleb learns go beyond what he does in the gym.
“There is no such thing as an undisciplined gymnast or a gymnast who doesn’t know how to manage their time well,” Taliaferro said. ”Those are skills anyone needs.”
Caleb began getting involved in gymnastics when he was 4 years old. His older sister was a gymnast.
“My sister did back handsprings and I thought that was cool,” Caleb said.
Another parent, Dana Edgar, of Arlington, said gymnastics has helped add a sense of stability for her son, Christian, who has been taking gymnastics at some level since he was 4 years old. The Edgars are a military family who moves around quite a bit and has lived everywhere from Jordan to Alaska.
“It’s been a lot of fun” Edgar said. “They tend to get tired, but once they get the chance to compete their love is renewed.”
Christian, who is homeschooled, said his favorite part is competition.
“You get to see how good you have gotten,” Christian, 8, said.
Trenton Peazant, 8, greatly enjoys the time he spends on the “mushroom,” which a button-shaped platform that is the precursor to the pommel horse.
“It’s so much fun swinging around and going in circles,” Peazant, a Gunston Elementary School student, said. “It’s hard when you are first starting. They had us to pyramid pushups and hold it for 5 minutes before we got to go down.”
Joana Garcia, whose son Kurt showed aptitude on the parallel bars, said that she noticed an immediate change in her son since he started gymnastics.
“It’s always hard to make something that makes you happy and he’s found that,” Garcia said. “He’s found something that brings out more in him than he thought he had. It’s really great to see.”