After years of dedication to the sport and overcoming multiple injuries, 14-year-old Blaine resident Sam Toepper competed at the USA Gymnastics regional championships in Montana.
“It felt like a really great accomplishment,” Sam said. “It was almost like a relief because it was always a dream of mine to make regionals after getting over all of these injuries.”
Sam and Bella Burns, a 14-year-old Ferndale resident, were the two gymnasts from Gym Star Sports Center in Ferndale to compete at the championships in Helena, Montana, April 16-18. It was both of their first times at regionals, Sam said.
The pair competed as Level 7 gymnasts (most athletes compete from levels 3-10 with 7 being considered elite advanced).
For Level 7, Sam placed eighth in the competition with a score of 36.40 and tied fifth for her floor routine with a score of 9.6. Burns placed seventh in the competition with a score of 36.60 and finished as the regional vault champion with a score of 9.225.
“Regionals is the Super Bowl of gymnastics,” said Sam’s father Trent Toepper. “Only the best keep going at state to regionals.”
To qualify for regionals, gymnasts from Washington had to score a 36 or above at the state championships in Tacoma in March. The regional championships included gymnasts from Washington, Oregon, Montana, Idaho, Hawaii and Alaska.
Sam’s parents signed her up for gymnastics classes when she was a 3-year-old needing to run off energy. Now, she practices about 20 hours per week in the gym.
“As soon as she learned to do a cartwheel, I don’t think she could walk a step without doing another one,” Trent said.
Trent said his daughter couldn’t compete at state for three years in a row because of multiple injuries, including a spiral fracture on her left ankle that required screws and breaking both elbows, which needed the attention of a specialist in Seattle. Once Sam was ready to compete last year, Covid-19 canceled state and regionals.
“I was nervous but I pushed through it,” Sam said of competing at regionals. “I feel really good about the outcome.”
Sam and Burns will now advance to training for Level 8 competitions next spring. The pair will also attend a gymnastics camp designed by USA Olympian Aly Raisman in California this summer.
The last time the gym attended regionals was five years ago, a Gym Star Sports Center coach said.
“We are incredibly proud of our athletes and their ability to overcome the difficulties of this last year,” Gym Star Sports Center owner Carolyn Saletto said in a news release. “It is a testament to their determination and dedication to the sport that they both love so much.”