A golden balance
Like many 6-year-olds, Leighton Salazar wants to do one thing: Play all day.
Well, in the midst of all that playing, she has worked to set herself apart from most of her peers, by becoming a state-champion gymnast in her spare time.
On May 17, Leighton, from Washington, won the all-around competition for 5-7-year-olds at the Iowa Xcel State Championship.
“It was exciting,” Leighton’s father Sean Salazar said. “She was excited too. She was competing against a girl that she hadn’t beat all year (which added to it).”
Leighton has been taking gymnastics classes at Synergy Gymnastics in North Liberty for three years with coach Oksana Kolyvanova.
“If it were allowed, I think she’d do gymnastics 24/7,” Kolyvanova said. “She won’t leave the gym, and if she does, she’ll do it at home. She’s serious about it and she’s a very hard worker. She has a heart in gymnastics, and if she could, she’d live, breathe and eat gymnastics. That would be Leighton.”
To earn her state championship, Leighton placed first on the bars and vault, while placing second in the beam and floor events.
How exactly did she do so well in those events? She stuck to the basics.
“I pointed my toes and was straight,” Leighton said.
Having just finished kindergarten, Leighton had to learn how to balance her time between homework and gymnastics during the school year, something that isn’t easy.
“I want to play all day,” Leighton said. “After (getting back from practice) I don’t want to read or do stretching. At gymnastics I stay two hours, and I can’t even keep track of all of it.”
She puts in about nine hours of practice a week at the gym, and for her parents, Sean and Jaci, it keeps them busy as well.
“It’s running around back-and-forth to Iowa City quite a bit, three times a week, so we stay pretty busy,” Sean said. “We try to stay on top of the homework. We’ve got three other kids, so we have lots of running around to do.”
Leighton’s favorite event to compete in is the vault, with the bars being her least favorite due to it “hurting her blisters” while doing it.
“She’s very strong and she’s pretty equal on all four apparatuses,” Kolyvanova said. “It’s all natural for her, and with the hours of hard work it has grown. Since she was 3, I could tell she was going to be more.”
Eventually, Leighton wants to emulate her favorite gymnasts, McKayla Maroney and Gabby Douglas, and make it to the Olympics.
Despite her young age, Leighton’s coach said she can see the 6-year-old going very far if she sticks with gymnastics.
“We don’t like to predict things, but she could go as far as her mind will take her,” Kolyvanova said. “When you start, you can have ability and everything, but it depends how she handles it. At this time, she’s doing great and going step-by-step. She could go as high as whatever the highest could be. I don’t want to say going to the Olympics because this is really one-in-a-million, but she can go very, very high.”