BY ED WRIGHT
May 9, 2010, 11:15 a.m.
Just making it to the Level 9 Eastern Nationals gymnastics meet the first weekend in May was a feat equal to climbing a giant mountain that got steeper with each step.
For the incredibly few athletes who actually won an event at the ultra-competitive gathering, well, it was like reaching the summit of national youth gymnastics' equivalent of Mt. Everest.
West Middle School eighth-grader Jacquelyn Bryden reached the rarified championship-caliber air in Charleston, WV. when she parlayed her 22-hours-a-week training regimen into a national Level 9 under-14 title in the vault competition.
Bryden earned a sterling 9.55 score on the vault, a mark that was better than the rest of the best of the best could muster.
The straight-A student proved she's far from one-dimensional as she placed sixth in the all-around, netting 36.71 points thanks to strong performances on the balance beam (9.225 - sixth place) and in the floor exercise event (9.2 - fifth place).
"I like competing in floor the best, but my best event is the vault," said Bryden, who trains at Ann Arbor-based Gym America. "To do well in the vault you need to have a lot of power in your arms and you need to be pretty fast."
Bryden praised the efforts of her coach, Claudia Kretschmer, who she works with for roughly four hours a day, five days a week.
"She's a great person to work with," Bryden said of Kretschmer. "She always gives me good advice."
Before she could compete at the Eastern Nationals, Bryden had to survive a rigorous state competition and even-tougher regional meet.
Bryden's passion for the sport mirrors her talent.
"I love gymnastics," she said. "I have fun every day I go to the gym."
It was love at first cartwheel for the outgoing future Canton Chief.
"My mom was a gymnast in college, so she took me to the Michigan Academy of Gymnastics in Canton when I was about 4, and I liked it right away," said Bryden. "My goal is to compete for the University of Michigan someday."