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A meet without meeting

Brianna Fryar says competing against other gymnastic clubs at meets makes her feel as if she is working toward something. (Courtesy of Vitaliy Gryra)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

There is something about the folks in Los Alamos that, when they see a problem, they set about fixing it.

Such was the case with Louise Janecky, director of the Los Alamos School of Gymnastics.

While virus-related health mandates put the kibosh on most competitions for nearly a year, Janecky decided to figure out a way for her students to still compete against other gymnastics clubs across the state.

“We always travel to gyms all over the state so, with COVID, we couldn’t do that,” she said. “So I spent last spring and summer doing Zoom classes. I’ve pulled so many rabbits out of the hat in the past year.”

With gymnastics, the Zoom classes were forced to be fairly rudimentary, with very basic skills, handstands, and conditioning for strength and flexibility, she said. When things opened up a smidge, she set up stations in the gym to allow student to take their online classes there, then worked on gymnastics in the afternoon.

But that still didn’t solve the matter of competition.

“It’s super nice to have meets so it feels like we’re working toward something,” said gymnast Brianna Fryar, a Los Alamos High School junior.

So Janecky worked to put together Zoom meets with other gymnastics clubs around the state.

Unlike many other competitions, gymnastics is a sport that just might work with such a system.

“We set up a Zoom meet with each gym in a different breakout room and each judge goes from breakout room to breakout room,” Janecky said.

Then, it became a matter of figuring out where each camera needed to be positioned and how far from each apparatus the camera should be.

“We did a whole system by trial and error,” she said. “We did nine meets like that and there were a couple of gyms doing the same in Pennsylvania, so we figured things out between us.”

Each routine has to be videotaped and immediately available to the judges to account for the inevitable glitches in the system that would occur. A two-iPad system was used to pan the cameras and to allow the judges to communicate with the competing gyms.

They sent their system to USA Gymnastics, which not only approved it to use for such things as state competitions, but also used it as the basis for its virtual meet guide that was available for gyms around the country to use.

The entire system was put to the ultimate test Saturday when six gyms and more than 50 athletes competed in the state gymnastics meet.

“I think it’s crazy that she came up with this great idea and videotaping it all, and now national is using it,” Fryar said. “I remember they were talking with other gyms and they just weren’t going to compete. She made it all work and everyone’s doing it.”

Competing, she said, is obviously what athletes live for, and Fryar has hopes and dreams of competing at the next level, like her favorite gymnast, Katelyn Ohashi, whose floor routines in particular were viral sensations.

“I love doing floor,” Fryar said. “Performing and showing everybody how much fun it is, making everybody light up because of my routine. When I do it right, everybody is clapping so much at the end. When I watch (Ohashi), she makes me feel the way I hope I make others feel when they watch me.”

A 10-year gymnastics veteran, Fryar has twice advanced beyond the state meet to regionals, and hoped for a third such appearance after Saturday’s meet, which ended after the Journal North’s deadline.

“I hope that I will win,” she said. “Practice has been good this week. So, I’m hoping it will be good. A win will be really nice. I also would like to do well in every event. My past (state) meets, I’ve messed up on at least one.”

She also wants a chance to improve her performance in the regionals that will include six other states.

“I don’t do as well, but there’s a lot of girls in (the) region who are very, very good,” Fryer said. “I have placed (top 12) both times I went. But it’s super fun for just the experience.”