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December 15, 2017
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El Dorado's Anabelle Dewey, 9-year-old daughter of Eric and Christy Dewey, currently competes at North East Texas Elite Gymnastics. She will compete next week at the TOPS A National Team in Houston and hopes to, one day, become an Olympian.

El Dorado's Anabelle Dewey, 9-year-old daughter of Eric and Christy Dewey, currently competes at North East Texas Elite Gymnastics. She will compete next week at the TOPS A National Team in Houston and hopes to, one day, become an Olympian.

El Dorado gymnast tumbling toward Olympics

This article was originally published November 26, 2017 at 5:00 a.m. Updated November 25, 2017 at 9:09 p.m.

By Tony Burns

Sports Editor

Watching world class gymnasts on television, it’s hard to believe girls like Gabby Douglas or Simone Biles weren’t, literally, born on a balance beam. But, the road to that level of competition is arduous and, for most athletes, unrealistic.

For one little El Dorado girl, however, it’s not a fairy tale.

Nine-year-old Anabelle Dewey is a long way from her goal of competing in the 2024 Olympic Games. But, she’s currently traveling that road.

“She’s got what it takes to make it to the national team,” said Lloyd White, Anabelle’s coach at North East Texas Elite Gymnastics in Texarkana. “There’s a lot of water that’s got to pass underneath the bridge before we get to that point. There’s a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck involved in all that. You’ve got to stay healthy. But, yeah, she’s definitely got what it takes to be on the national team.”

Anabelle packs 58 pounds onto her 4-foot-1-inch frame. Her abdominal muscles ripple through her club leotard as she knocks out 10 perfectly-executed press handstands for a photographer.

While she looks like the gymnasts on television, it wasn’t her first athletic activity. In fact, she was late to the sport, beginning at the age of 6 while a lot of the other gymnasts started at 3 or 4.

“I tried a bunch of different sports. When I tried gymnastics, it just kind of stuck,” Anabelle said. “It’s fun and I get a lot of new skills that I get to perform for people at competitions.”

Anabelle’s parents, Eric and Christy Dewey, moved to El Dorado from Iowa in the spring. By the time she arrived in Arkansas, the gymnastics’ spark had already been lit. She competed for Black Hawk Gymnastics in Iowa, winning All-Around gold in the prestigious Chow’s Rising Stars Meet.

“She’s tried about every sport. She did dance. Back when we lived in Virginia, she was on the competitive dance team they had there. When we moved to Iowa, she tried soccer. She tried baseball. She did that for a couple of years … and wrestling. She was a good wrestler,” said her mother. “And then she tried gymnastics. After a year-and-a-half or so of doing gymnastics while still doing other sports, she decided then to quit all her other sports and just do gymnastics.”

The decision paid off when she was named to the TOPS A National Team, which consists of the top 45 8, 9 and 10-year-olds in the nation. Anabelle will train with the national staff at the National Olympic Training Center near Houston fromTuesday through Dec. 2.

“I knew when I got asked to do TOPS. That’s when I figured out I was really good at it,” Anabelle said. “I was super excited. My coaches gave me a big hug. After that, we started doing harder skills so I can show them at my camp.”

•••

Google TOPS A National Team and a list pops up with the names of 45 girls and their gymnastics clubs from all over the United States. Coach White explained just how difficult it is to get on that list.

“Let me just put it to you this way. Over the course of the summer, almost 4,000 athletes – 8, 9 and 10-year olds – went to their respective state competitions. All of the results from all of the states were sent to Indianapolis to the national office,” began White. “They took the results from all the state tests, put them in the computer, ranked them and the top 100 8-year-olds, 100 9-year-olds and 100 10-year-olds were invited to come down to the national training center, which is just outside of Houston, for the national competition.

“Once you get to the national competition, they go through all of their strength and flexibility and then they go through all of their skills in all four events. They pick the top 50 to make the A team. It doesn’t make any difference what age they are. It’s 50 out of all 300-plus. If you go back to the state testing, she’s in the top 50 out of over 4,000 athletes.”

Considering Anabelle’s experience, it’s actually an amazing accomplishment.

“That she made the TOPS A Team is pretty unbelievable since she’d only been training for it, seriously, for about four months,” said Christy Dewey.

At this stage, every camp or clinic is a competition for Anabelle, who competes in Coach White’s Elite group. The TOPS A National Team members are, basically, two giant steps away from the national team.

“It’s a 4-day event,” explained Coach White. “Each day she is there, the national staff is going to be evaluating the skills she can already do, the new skills they are going to try to teach her while she’s there and her potential to be able to learn new skills in the future. From there, they will, hopefully, invite her to come on to one of the developmental teams.

“They have two developmental teams. The lower-level developmental team is where she would go first. There’s about 50 girls on that team. And then, the next level up team, there’s about 35 in that group. From there, you go to the national team, which is the girls you see on TV all the time.”

Anabelle has also qualified to compete in the USA Gymnastics HOPES Competition for 10-and-11-year-olds.

“That is the elite,” said White. “There’s probably only about 30 or 40 that compete in HOPES in the entire United States. She’s got to go to the competition and she’s trying to qualify for the national championships, which will be in July.”

Anabelle is scheduled to compete in Orlando in February, Seattle in May and Houston in June.

“Any one of those competitions, if she does well enough and gets her qualifying score, then she gets to go to the national championships,” said White.

•••

Eric Dewey, wife Christy and children Alexa, 13, Anabelle and 8-year-old Evan, moved to El Dorado for his new job at Murphy USA.

El Dorado is not exactly a haven for gymnasts. Christy admitted that finding a club for Anabelle was a concern and could’ve halted the move altogether.

Before Anabelle, the Dewey clan was not a gymnastics family. Both parents admit they’re learning something new about the sport constantly. Their daughter just sort of tumbled into it.

“Honestly, she just wanted to try it. When we moved to Iowa, she wanted to try it. So, we put her in gymnastics and they moved her right on up to the Level 3 team,” said her mother, who wasn’t surprised. “She’s very athletic so she was good at every sport she tried.”

Her coach said the reason for accelerated success in such a demanding sport isn’t hard to explain.

“Number one, she is an extremely hard worker,” he said. “It doesn’t make any difference what sport or endeavor you’re trying to do, if you work harder than everybody else, you’re going to be good at it. She is an extremely hard worker. The other thing she’s got going for her, she’s just got pure, God-given talent. She’s fast. She’s strong. She’s flexible. She’s got the whole package.”

Still, White expressed some incredulousness at Anabelle’s rate of improvement.

“She’s only been with us since May,” he said. “When you consider she’s only been with us six months, the amount of progress she’s made is absolutely phenomenal.”

The road Anabelle is currently traveling is not a sprint but a marathon. It will take proper guidance from coaches, hard work from the athlete herself and support from her family.

During last year’s Olympics, Christy said her daughter was glued to the television during the gymnastics. Anabelle will be 16-years-old when the 2024 Olympic Games are held in Paris.

“I want to at least go to college with gymnastics. Or, making it to the Olympics would be fun,” Anabelle said.

I’ve asked her, ‘Do you want to be in the Olympics someday?’ She says, ‘Well, yes, I hope to be,’” said Christy. “She definitely has the passion and the drive. I’ve never met a girl that works so hard as she does. Anything she puts her mind to, she will do. But, if she ever wants to quit, that’s absolutely fine, too. It’s up to her.”

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