Lexy Ramler will be stepping onto the biggest stage of her young life when she climbs the handful of stairs leading up to the uneven bars tonight, her first event in the Nastia Liukin Cup.
If the 14-year-old Winona Middle School student has it her way, it will just be the beginning.
Ramler is one of 34 girls from across the United States to qualify for the prestigious gymnastics meet in Worcester, Mass.
To provide some perspective for those unfamiliar with the sport: This is the big leagues — or at least the springboard to them.
The 2012 Olympic all-around champion Gabrielle Douglas competed and placed fourth in 2010 in the inaugural Nastia Liukin Cup — named after the 2008 Olympic champion — and many of the event’s older qualifiers have already signed scholarships to compete next year or the following with some of the nations’ top universities.
“It’s definitely a step up,” Ramler said earlier this week at KidSport Gymnastics, where she trains. “I’m just really excited and ready.”
Ramler spent the week trying to approach practice like she would before any other competition.
She knows, though, that this one is different.
Her coach and owner of KidSport, Rob Murray, cranked up the pressure in anticipation of the jitters a large meet can conjure.
“We’ve done a lot of what we call cold sets, where she gets to stretch out, go to the equipment and throw a full set. We’ve tried to put her routines in the most
pressure-filled situations,” Murray said. “Generally, my intention is to keep it calm and fun and not load a lot of pressure on, but this competition just comes so chock-full of its own right when you walk in that I wanted her to try and feel comfortable with that.”
Ramler hopes that tonight’s event is just the beginning of a career competing with other elite gymnasts.
“I have a lot of goals,” she said.
If you haven’t already noticed, she’s serious about them, too.
Ramler calls St. Michael home, a city northwest of Minneapolis, though for the past two years she has spent five days a week in Winona.
The Ramlers rent an apartment in Winona so that Lexy can train with Murray.
She and her mom, Marlene, make the two-hour journey from their home to Winona on Sunday evenings and return to St. Michael and her dad, Brad, on Fridays.
In Winona, Ramler practices daily from 6:30 to 8:15 a.m. and after school from about 2:30 to 6 p.m. The schedule means her school day is one class fewer than other students’ at the middle school — she replaces physical-education with her training at KidSport.
The decision to make the transition to Winona, where she is able to receive more one-on-one coaching with Murray than at her former gym in the Twin Cities, wasn’t easy, Ramler said.
But it has been worth it.
“There’s just so much going on during the week that I don’t really think about it,” she said. “In the beginning it was a little hard, but you get used to it.”
Ramler genuinely enjoys the daily grind of practice. Tired or energized, the gym is where she wants to be.
“It’s not just about the accolades ... she enjoys the training portion of it,” Murray said. “She likes working on learning new elements. She’s willing to push large reps of tedious portions (of routines). Some things are really exciting and really fun. Some things are just hard because they’re hard. That’s why you have to do them. She doesn’t battle either one of those things.”
It’s that mindset that has fueled Ramler’s success and helped her earn her spot at tonight’s meet.
“You’re in the spotlight when you go up there so it will be exciting,” Ramler said. “I’m psyched. I’m just ready. I want to see everything. I want to take it all in.”