Local athlete excels in gymnastics

Knowing Olympic Gold Medal winners Gabby Douglas and Shawn Johnson trained in Iowa makes Madison Gatzlaff smile.

And for two good reasons.

The 12-year-old Marshalltown girl competes in all-around gymnastics, just like Douglas and Johnson.

While Douglas and Johnston trained in West Des Moines, Gatzlaff trains in Ankeny at Triad Competitive Gymnastics Center.

“It’s exciting,” Madison said, in reference to the state’s gymnastics reputation. “Lots of the Olympians have come from here … apparently there are good gyms and good coaches. That is why it was a hard decision in picking a gym to train at. I really like Triad, it is a great gym, with great coaches and great teammates.”

However, Gatzlaff wisely understands that good coaches, practice and competition play a role in the path to success as does Iowa’s reputation.

Gatzlaff trains 22 hours or more per week under the watchful eye of Triad’s coaches.

Also watching keenly is Madison’s mom – Leasa Gatzlaff – a former gymnast and coach.

Leasa competed in high school and beyond.

She later coached the sport in Portland, Ore., and Madison joined her in gyms after preschool and kindergarten classes.

Madison said her interest in the sport began at an early age beginning with the gym sessions and a “Mom and Me” gymnastics class.

Before moving to Marshalltown with her family in December, Madison achieved gymnastic success in Texas.

There, she was the 2012 South Texas State Level 6 all-around champion.

Since then Madison progressed.

“She is now a Level 7 all-around gymnast competing in four events – bars, beam, vault and floor exercise,” said Craig Gatzlaff, Madison’s father. “To put it in perspective, level 10 is Olympic level gymnastics and at 12-years old, she is competing only three levels away from that level.”

Vault and floor routines are favorites.

“I like vault because I’m really good at it,” she said. “And I like the little burst of adrenalin I get when I start to run down the vault way. I like floor because, at the level I am now … you get your own floor music and choreography routine … you get to dance and tumble to it and I really enjoy that.”

Going up against tough competition in United States Gymnastics Association-sanctioned events is critical for one to advance in the sport.

Consequently, Madison competed in the Midwest Twisters/Harley-Davidson Gymnastics Invitational Meet held in Milwaukee Feb. 15 and 16.

“That was a very good meet,” Madison said. “That was my first meet since joining Triad. I earned third place in beam and bars, fifth in vault, second on floor, and second all-around – which is all four scores combined. Whoever has the biggest all-around score gets placed. My total score was 37.275.”

The entire family was ecstatic.

“She posted a score of 37.275 out of a possible 40.0,” Craig said. “To put the score in perspective, four events at a perfect 10.0 (equalling 40) has never been done in the history of the sport,” he said. “And a 10 is as rare as finding individual gymnasts such as Mary Lou Retton, Shawn Johnson or Nadia Comeneci.”

Last weekend, she competed at the Northern Lights Classic in Minneapolis.

However, Madison’s focus is now on the state gymnastic championships to be held in Waukee next weekend.

Older brother Luke, 22, who attends college in Boston, will be on spring break to travel home and watch his sister compete.

Attending meets is a family affair, Leasa said.

Mom’s job is to also photograph and video Madison and Payton in action.

Younger sister Payton, 9, is a gymnast enrolled at Triad.

“Payton supports her sister and vice-versa,” Leasa said.

Another family activity is attending “Beauty and the Beast” gymnastics and wrestling meets held at Iowa State University.

“Those are fun,” Payton said.

When not in the gym, Madison enjoys the family pets (a cat, dog and snake) visiting her grandmother who lives next door, and hanging out with friends.

She is dual enrolled at Lenihan Intermediate School – meaning she takes two subjects at school and is home-schooled as well.

Math and science are her favorite subjects at Lenihan, she said.

Madison’s short term goal is to be prepared for the state championships.

A long term goals include college and gymnastics.

“I’d like to get a scholarship,” she said. “I’m learning all of the time about gymnastics and having a lot of fun.”