Local gymnasts take flight into new season


Three athletes — each with different reasons for getting involved in gymnastics — competed at Bronx Science on Jan. 4 in the first match of the season.

Shanti Kumar, a Riverdale resident and senior at the Bronx High School of Science, has been practicing gymnastics for more than a decade. 

Ashleigh Dempster, a junior at DeWitt Clinton, was motivated to become a gymnast after watching Shawn Johnson and Gabby Douglas garner Olympic medals for the U.S.A.

Kennedy Campus sophomore Martia Means wanted to try the tough sport, but found it easier than she expected.

The Lady Knights were dressed in shimmering crimson tights; the Lady Governors wore their traditional black, with swirls of red, suggesting a Clinton “C”; and the Wolverines wore warm-up jackets embossed with the taunt, “Don’t call it gymnicetics.”

Though their gymnasts were doing their routines in the same gym and at the same time, only DeWitt Clinton was formally competing against both of its opponents. 

The Lady Governors lost to Bronx Science, 91.85 to 83.3 but were victorious over Kennedy, 80.80 to 59.35.

In the Clinton versus Bronx Science match, Martina Cox of Science won all four of the events — the balance beam, floor exercise, uneven parallel bars and vaulting. 

“I was happy with the way I did,” a modest Cox said after the match, “especially since I was a little under the weather.”

Athena Buckley of Science was second on the beam, Shanti Kumar of Science was third, and Clinton’s Dania De Leon was fourth. 

In the floor exercise, Ashleigh Dempster of Clinton was second to Cox, followed by Antonelle Melbourne of the Lady Governors and Athena Buckley of Science. 

On the parallel bars, Dempster was second, followed by Marya Friedman of the Lady Governors and Buckley of the Wolverines. 

Cox was again tops in vaulting, followed by teammate Cheyenne Delsavio, Clinton’s Dempster and Kumar of Bronx Science. 

“I thought I did wonderfully, but my scores weren’t as good as I thought they would be, but that usually happens,” Kumar joked after the match. 

“I didn’t fall off the beam, though. I usually do, but I didn’t.”

In the match between Clinton and Kennedy, De Leon was tops on the balance beam, followed by teammates Buckley, Dempster and Chelsea George. 

Clinton’s Dempster claimed the top score in the floor exercises, followed by teammates Melbourne, Chanique White and Daniela Hernandez. 

On the parallel bars, Clinton’s Dempster was first, followed by Buckley, White and Kennedy’s Christine Carr.

The Lady Governors swept the top four spots in vaulting, with Dempster, Schamona Williams, Hernandez and Desteni Febus. 


Paths to flight

After the match, gymnasts from all three teams reflected on the personal pathways they took to learn and compete in their sport. And though their level of experience varied dramatically, as did their taste in gymnastic events, they all expressed a love and passion for this sport of strength and grace. 

“I have been wanting to do it since I was young,” said Kennedy’s Dannon Samuels, who said she likes the “flips and the flexibility of gymnastics. “I saw it on TV and said. ‘I’m going to do that.’” 

Teammate Martia Means said that vaulting was her favorite event. 

“I do it better than the rest of the events,” she said. “It’s free and easy.” 

She finds the uneven bars to be the most challenging event, adding, “I don’t have enough upper body and shoulder strength.” 

But Means is not giving up. 

“I have to work on it. I want to go to college and do gymnastics,” she said.

Though she competed well in all four events, Cox of Bronx Science said that the floor exercise is her favorite. 

“It involves much more creativity,” she said. “It invites more dance.” 

Her teammate, Kumar, agreed with Cox’s choice, adding, “It feels like a performance and not just a sport.”

Kumar said that bars are her least favorite event. 

“You are much more focused on your hands and gravity than on your feet,” she said. 

“I am much more used to standing on my feet like everybody else in the real world.”

DeWitt Clinton gymnast Williams said that she likes “the rush I get taking chances. I always liked that aspect of sports.”

She said that she doesn’t have a favorite event. 

“I like the floor routine, but I also like bars,” Williams said.

Dempster is very clear about her most and least favorite events.

“I like vault best,” she said. “There’s a lot of power to it and I’m good at it.”

On the other hand, Dempster said that she finds the beam to be a bit daunting.

“Just looking at it, makes me nervous,” she admitted. “You have to be able to do hard moves, land them and look pretty at the same time.”