Rhythmic Diary: 2000 Junior Pan American Games in San Felipe, Venezuela
posted on 01/31/2001
By Brenann Stacker, Rhythmic Junior National Team Champion

Have you ever wondered what it¹s like to represent the USA at an international competition?

Last October, I competed at the 2000 Junior Pan American Games in San Felipe, Venezuela. My adventure began as I, along with my coach Natalye Klimouk and Illinois Rhythmics Jr. Group, left Chicago bound for Miami. There we joined other delegation members, Taryn Look, Jacquelyn Jampolsky and their coaches, Ileana Vogelaar and Brooke Bushnelll. Tyana Marlow and Kathy Brym, the USA judges, met us there, too.

We traveled toVenezuela together. People are very curious about 9 tall girls, all carrying adidas bags, in an airport. Traveling with a US delegation makes you feel very special. Everyone, eager to get to Venezuela, was full of anticipation. Finally, the plane landed in Venezuela. Looking out, I saw South America, inviting and beautiful. The warm air engulfed us as we walked across the tarmac to the terminal building. Everyone was speaking Spanish and I tried to decipher what they were saying. The security guards were a little intimidating, dressed in army fatigues, but our USA passports ensured an easy trip through customs. Buses were waiting to take us to the athlete compound in San Felipe. We peered with great interest at everything around us. Beautiful mountains lined the horizon. Lush tropical foliage and small, tile-roofed houses lined the streets. Tired from our long trip, we were quiet for most of the drive.

Quiet didn¹t last long. Arriving at the athlete complex, we saw, and heard, gymnasts from all over the world. I saw two gymnasts from Canada whom I had met in Portugal. Meeting new people and making friends is the best part of gymnastics. The coaches let us chat awhile, but soon hustled us off to our rooms to prepare for training the next day. It was a little hard to sleep the first night; we were so excited about competing!

Training came before competition! It was hot! We worked very hard. We did little but train and nap the first two days. We wanted to do our best. Opening ceremonies were awesome! Venezuela put its best foot forward. Marching proudly behind our banner, I noticed the USA flag above me. I was so thankful for the opportunity to be there. I could hardly contain my excitement at competing.

Our first task was Team Competition. Scores from all three athletes representing each country would be combined. JJ, Taryn and I supported and encouraged each other. We tried our best and did very well, but our coaches didn¹t tell us scores. Natasha, my coach, says to concentrate on elements, not scores. Do the elements correctly and you won¹t have to worry about scores. We focussed on routines.

Time for Team Competition awards arrived. The announcer called for the USA to report for march out. Bob Colarossi, USA Gymnastics President, was in Venezuela for a meeting and made time to watch our competition. He lined up next to us, as we marched toward the podium. Something was very strange, though. Someone directed us to line up behind the First Place podium. We were confused. Not knowing the scores or places, we didn¹t realize we had won until the announcer called "Estados Unidos, USA, First Place for Team Competition!" It took about 2 seconds for us to leap there. We were ecstatic! Bob placed medals around our necks and handed us bouquets. We had actually become Junior Pan American Champions in the Team Competition! We would bring home gold medals for the USA!

Actually, everyone in the delegation came home with a medal. I earned the bronze in the AA competition. JJ was 4th. JJ earned a bronze in Hoop finals while I earned bronze in Ball. JR Group got the silver. As we accepted these medals, we knew that, though they belonged to us, they also belonged to our country. I had dreamed about international competition since I was 5 years old. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to fulfill my dream, win a gold medal with my teammates and represent the United States.