Striking a balance
If there's one skill Dickinson High senior Mara VanElls has mastered, it is balance well beyond the beam. "She's done well in gymnastics because she's worked very hard at it and has been very determined," Dickinson gymnastics coach Kent VanElls said.
If there's one skill Dickinson High senior Mara VanElls has mastered, it is balance well beyond the beam.
"She's done well in gymnastics because she's worked very hard at it and has been very determined," Dickinson gymnastics coach Kent VanElls said.
Mara has dedicated herself to a number of pursuits including theatre, swing choir, serving as assistant editor on the school newspaper and still maintaining National Honor Society level grades.
Even with all of those activities, VanElls still dedicates herself to the Midgets gymnastics team.
"She is really busy," Kent said. "She's involved in so many things and she does well in school. Even with everything she's got going on, she always comes and makes sure she gets all of her gymnastics stuff done even when she has other things she is committed to."
Like most gymnasts, Mara started young.
"It's something my parents got me started in," Mara said. "But they never made me stay in it. I stayed because I wanted to."
Mara's drive to stick with gymnastics as she got older may have been influenced by her father. However, it probably has more to do with her passion for performance.
"I like being in front of people," Mara said. "I think it's fun. Beforehand, I get nervous, but then after I get up there, I can relax and get into it."
As much as Mara loves being a performer, she has found a balance between the importance of succeeding as an individual and being part of a team. She is the only Dickinson senior this year and sees her role on the team as one of solidarity.
"I'm pretty consistent," Mara said. "I really don't have any spectacular skills, but I always do what I can and that's valuable too. Other girls on my team can do a more challenging routine and have the chance to score really well. That will help a lot, but if it doesn't work, then we can fall back on my score."
Another part of Mara's balancing act is realizing physical limitations without letting them hold you back.
A spained ankle put a crimp on her season freshman year. Her sophomore year of competition was virtually lost due to a severe knee injury - she only competed on the uneven parallel bars. As a junior, she stayed injury free and qualifed for the North Dakota state meet. This year she is competing through shin splints.
"In spite of all that, she has already qualified in the all around this year," Kent said. "Her high school career, she's qualified in the all around every year that she was able to participate fully."
Mara tore her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and mensicus in her right knee, may have happened more than two years ago, but it still has an impact on how she competes.
"It affects some of the skills I do," Mara said. "I don't know if I ever would have been able to do some of the more challenging skills, but I'd like to think I would have. I just do what I can do."
And despite her limitationss, Mara has remained a leader for the team.
"She's a terrffic leader," Kent said. "She's encouraging to the younger girls. You can just tell she wants everybody to do well along with herself. The team is important to her."
The emphasis on teamwork is something Mara appreciates in high school competition.
"When I was younger, it was all about being an individual and passing to the next level," Mara said. "In high school, it's much more of a team effort."
Mara also coaches an elementary team with sophomore teammate Marie Franzen as well as teaches a few intermediate classes.
"It's really great to work with someone who is so positive," Franzen said. "She's good with the kids and gets the best out of them. Mara plans to continue coaching
"As a teammate, she's happy for after high school. But for now, she is you no matter what. She is always focused on finishing out the season. positive, always caring. It's really "All the girls on the team are my great to have someone like that friends," Mara said. "They make always cheering you on." practice a lot more fun."