All chalked up

Posted 6/19/10

Connor Vernick has three dreams, and each of them are in reach because of the last 10 years of gymnastics training. A senior at Arapahoe High School …

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All chalked up


Connor Vernick has three dreams, and each of them are in reach because of the last 10 years of gymnastics training.

A senior at Arapahoe High School in the coming academic year, Vernick, 16, an Academic Letter winner and National Honor Society honoree, aspires to make his 10 years of gymnastics training, 20 hours a week, pay off at the collegiate level and maybe on the Olympic stage.

Starting out as a recreational gymnast, Vernick made a home at Apex Academies, formerly the Apex All-Stars, in Littleton where he was eventually picked out by coach Kevin Watson, who put the Centennial resident on Apex’s competitive team. Vernick’s abilities took off from there exponentially.

“He went from Level 4 one year,” Watson said. “He skipped Level 5 and went to Level 6. Skipped Level 6 and went to Level 9 and went to nationals as a Level 9. … The entry level is Level 4, and it goes all the way to Level 10, which is what he is right now.”

A year-round gymnast with appearances at annual competitions like Blackjack in Las Vegas and the West Coast Classic in California, Vernick has qualified and competed at the U.S. Junior Olympic Men's National Gymnastic Championships three times since 2007. In addition, he has reached U.S.A. Gymnastic Academic All-American first-team status for the past three consecutive years.

Making nationals and entering the event’s opening ceremonies has been Vernick’s favorite moment of gymnastics thusfar.

“The first time I was there, I kind of choked up a little bit,” Vernick said. “It’s like a stadium full of people watching you. The second and third time I went, I was used to it.

“[I enjoy] the opening ceremonies, when you come in and everyone is clapping for you. And since I’m an All-American, I walk up and get the certificate from the head guy in gymnastics. Shaking his hand is always fun.”

Outside of being a solid team leader, Watson said Vernick’s drive and determination are his greatest strengths. That, and he is extremely coachable.

“He’s somebody I can always depend on to do exactly what I say,” Watson said. “He’s always been a hard worker. I never have to tell him to work. In fact, I usually have to tell him to stop working. Some days, he’ll go home and he’ll work, come in the next day dead sore. And I’m like, ‘We need some body to work with when you come here.’ I’ve had to go to his home and take away his weights.”

At this point, the focus of Vernick’s training is preparing for the collegiate level, the senior’s ultimate goal. With a high aspiration to serve his country, Vernick is eyeing a military academy prior to a career in either the Air Force, Navy or Army. He hopes his gymnastics talents will help recruiters from those academies, especially West Point, which he would most like to attend, take notice of him.

Of course, the world stage at the Olympics would be a treat for Vernick as well and not exactly ruled out. Hoping and expecting to at some point specialize in the rings and pommel horse events, the senior has trained all-around in six events. The rings and pommel horse are his strongest events, he said, and his favorites.

“It makes you better, cause there are some skills on floor that relate to every other event,” Vernick said. “You need skills from every event to build a basic foundation.”

Of course, achieving such high goals comes at a price, and sacrifice is something Vernick knows well. A typical weekday for him begins with waking up at 6:30 a.m. and heading to school. He gets out about 2:15 p.m. and relaxes for 30 minutes. After a small snack, he heads to Apex to train for four hours before returning home and hitting his bed.

Some pop culture on television and in sports will escape the gymnast, he said. He’ll be the last one to know who’s the favored contestant on American Idol.

“I have no idea who they’re talking about,” Vernick said. “Football. I love football, but it’s kind of hard to stay up with all the football that goes on during the season. I usually don’t know what people are talking about.”

Given there is no boys gymnastics teams from the high schools in Colorado, Vernick said being a year-round gymnast can sometimes get lonely and that he sometimes feels he has no life.

“My friends don’t usually don’t understand when they’ll ask me to go do something why I can’t come,” Vernick said. “They don’t always understand what it takes to be [at this level]. It can get lonely.

“It kind of hurts me, cause sometimes I don’t feel like I have a life, cause I’m [at Apex] so much. But then, I take a break. Sometimes, my coach makes me take a break, cause I don’t like taking breaks, and then when I’m off, I just miss it so much. So, I have to come back. It’s kind of a hate-love relationship, more love.”

With gymnastics requiring a certain mindset and its constant demands on the body, Vernick said it’s the hardest sport in the world. And he’s taken his share of bruises getting to Level 10 as well.

“I fractured my ankle by landing on concrete about four years ago,” he said. “That wasn’t the brightest thing. I’ve had rotator-cuff injuries and wrist injuries from pommel horse and rings.”

With a late start compared to the ages of other competitive youth gymnasts, Vernick has made believers out of anyone who thought he wouldn’t be Level 10 at age 16, having only six years of competition to his credit.

“He really has made a liar out of me,” Watson said. “He’s so motivated and skipped so many levels, he’s going to make a liar out of me again. The one thing I’ve told college coaches is, there’s a lot of gymnast still left in him. It’s like a horse with a lot of race still left in him. He’s got a lot to learn, a lot more to get, and he’s got the drive and desire to do it.”

Vernick is expected to graduate Arapahoe High School May of 2011.


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