There’s a fire burning inside McKinzie Carter, and the flames will be fanned today for the Central Valley sophomore.
Carter and the Lady Bears are in Des Moines, Wash., today, competing in the Class 4A regional gymnastics tournament at Mount Rainier High School, where CV looks to earn a team spot in next weekend’s State Championship meet in Tacoma.
“Last year I qualified in each event individually and was able to compete at state as an all-around,” Carter said. “This year I want to get back to state, of course. But what’s really exciting about regionals and state is for us to qualify as a team because we’re certainly good enough to get there.”
Despite being in just her second year of high school gymnastics, Carter is a veteran and a leader.
“I started gymnastics when I was 4 years old,” she said. “In club gymnastics, you have to get to a Level 4 before you’re allowed to compete, so I was 8 or 9 years old when I started competing and when I quit club gymnastics in the seventh grade I was a Level 8.”
The demands of club gymnastics are high, both in terms of commitment and in terms of bodily wear and tear. By the time Carter reached middle school, she was ready to move on.
“To complete, it got to a point where I would go to school, go to gymnastics, do my homework and go to bed,” she explained. “I loved gymnastics, but I also wanted to have the full school experience. I wanted to enjoy the other things school offered and to be able to spend time with friends.”
Carter said she knew then that she wanted to compete in high school gymnastics, so she maintained her skills. As a freshman last year, she was a top all-around competitor, qualifying for the state meet with sophomore and fellow former club gymnast Izzy Erdem.
High school gymnastics are a different type of competition, Carter said.
A club tournament is filled with competitors who have proven their skills.
“If you have a Level 5 tournament, everyone there has the same level of skills, so the competition is really fierce,” Carter said. “That’s not how it is in high school gymnastics. You have teams where everyone isn’t on the same level.”
At a club competition, gymnasts are competing against their own teammates as much as other clubs. High school gymnastics are much more of a team sport.
“I really enjoy working with my teammates and helping them get better,” Carter said. “I like the team part of the sport much more. I like doing well, but I love it when we all do well and we do well as a team. That’s what so exciting about getting to state as a team. It was a lot of fun to be able to compete against the best gymnasts in the state, and that’s an experience I want to share with my teammates.”
Preparing a routine for this weekend and for the state meet is a challenge. On the one hand, gymnasts all want to have routines with the potential to garner high scores, which means having not only the required elements for each exercise, but also more difficult elements that can be rewarded with higher totals.
But the other side of the equation is that greater reward also comes with greater risk.
“You kind of walk a fine line between those two sides,” Carter said. “Yes, you want to increase the potential for points but you also want to make sure you can perform your routine cleanly. Every time you make a mistake, it costs you a tenth of a point, and it adds up pretty fast.
“For me, it’s about being able to do my balance beam routine without falling, and I’m pretty sure I can do that at this point. My vault is good and I haven’t missed that all season. My bar routine is solid and so is my floor exercise.”
Big competitions bring out Carter’s competitive juices. The better the competition, the more the adrenaline flows and the more she gets fired up.
Nerves aren’t necessarily part of the equation, she said. In fact, she likes the idea of letting her competition go first. She likes the pressure of having to stick her own routine.
“I guess you’d have to say that I’m a competitor,” Carter said. “When I see someone go out and have a great routine, that makes me want to go out and do the same thing.”