Locals vaulting to D-I
Crestwood’s Lyons and Nanticoke’s Bieski earn full scholarships for gymnastics.
By lsokolowski@leader.net Little Leaguers want to grow up to play professional ball, hoping to be the next Derek Jeter. Kids who play soccer recreationally have David Beckam to emulate.
And it’s hard to miss the youngsters in the football bleachers on Friday nights. They, too, have someone to look up to.
Greater Nanticoke Area’s Amy Bieski and Crestwood’s Nikki Lyons are the role models.
The life of a gymnast is one that’s lacking the highlights read over the high school loudspeaker and a life that doesn’t get a shout-out at the pep rally. But that doesn’t stop these two.
“It’s definitely not a high school sport around here,” Lyons said.
And yet, both girls – based on sheer talent and dedication – signed NCAA Division I scholarships on Wednesday night. Bieski is headed to West Virginia University and Lyons is off to Louisiana State University.
“I never played a school sport,” Bieski said. “Now I’ll be an athlete.”
But an athlete she already is. The girls train six days a week, an average of 22 to 25 hours a week at Northeast Gymnastics in Hanover Area under coach Lori Dexter.
“They’ve been with me almost 12 years, 12 months out of the year,” Dexter said, “from when they were 5, through the teenage years, high school and boyfriends. We’re part of each other’s lives. It’s not just sports.”
Bieski and Lyons are the first graduating class, so to speak, from Northeast Gymnastics. The gym opened 12 years ago, and that’s when both girls joined the team.
Bieski started gymnastics because she was “flipping around” at home, and her mother wanted somewhere safe for her to do it. Lyons had started gymnastics and was splitting time with soccer, but that wasn’t for her.
“I was the one doing cartwheels down the field,” she said.
College will be the first time that the girls are training apart. It’ll also be the beginning of competitions for 12 to 14 weeks straight. The girls, right now, have seven to eight meets a season, which runs from December to May.
“It’ll be tough,” Lyons said. “(But) my first meet is in Cancun, so I’m happy.”
What a way to start.
Bieski went on official visits to Arizona State, Michigan State and Auburn University, but it was her first visit, and that was to West Virginia, that won her over.
“I fell in love with the school,” she said. “The girls were really, really nice, and the coach was really nice.”
Lyons also ended up choosing the first school she visited. LSU was on a long list of distant schools that she was thinking about attending. Arizona State, Michigan State, Illinois, Alabama and Oklahoma were among the choices.
“The academic center is amazing for freshmen,” Lyons said.
LSU was eighth and West Virginia 22nd in the final national rankings last season.
Both girls are all around gymnasts, meaning there isn’t an event – floor, balance beam, uneven parallel bars or vault – in which they specialize. They are also both Level 10 gymnasts, which is one step below Elite, the rank that Olympians carry.
Lyons was an Elite, but went down to Level 10. She said she might move up and eye an Olympic spot after college.
“My goal was always to go to the Olympics when I grew up,” she said. “The last year and a half, I wanted to get a college scholarship and go to a top 10 school.”
And now she is.
“Since I was about 11, I knew I wanted to do this in college,” Bieski said. “And now I’m getting my college paid for free.”
Bieski and Lyons are the first girls from Northeast Gymnastics to accept scholarships to Division I schools. And maybe that means something. Scholarships aren’t just given out to kids who grow up with a basketball hoop in the driveway. They’re going to kids who spend time in padded gyms as well.
“I’m really glad to set an example,” Bieski said. “There are so many talented young people in here.”