Julia Simon knew from the start that she had a good shot at winning the state championships. She had nailed her first event, bars, — her favorite — with a 9.7.
“That’s a really high score, so I knew I was going to do good,” the 10-year-old said. “My coach spends a lot of time working with us on bars and when I saw I got 9.7, I was really happy.”
After completing three other events, — floor, beam and vault — known as rotations, Simon was announced the Level 5 state champion.
The fourth-grader from Jackson Heights said she’s loved gymnastics her whole life.
“When I was little, I loved acrobatics and was very hyper all of the time,” Simon said.
But it wasn’t until she turned 6 years old that she began classes. She joined Nina’s Gymnastic Center in Maspeth when she was 8 years old and has been balancing on beams and flipping in the air ever since.
While the average person may find flipping in the air terrifying, Simon said the key to nailing her tricks involves practice and discipline.
“Before I start an event, I close my eyes and envision a perfect routine,” she said. “I know all of the elements because I practiced them over and over again.”
The head coach and director of Nina’s Gymnastics, Igor Kolpakchi, said the sport teaches the girls discipline and confidence.
“Walking a balance beam 4 inches wide and 4 feet high teaches a young girl how to concentrate on where she is going in life,” he writes in the gym’s brochure. “She quickly learns how to put her foot down and when to leap for her dreams.”
Kolpakchi, who came to this country from Russia in 1977, originally opened Nina’s Gymnastics — named for his late wife and gymnast, Nina who died in 1995 — in 1980 on Woodhaven Boulevard in Ozone Park. In 2000, he moved the center to 73-56 Grand Ave. in Maspeth, where it still operates.
While Simon’s gold medal is an impressive feat, Nina’s Gymnastic Center is no stranger to winning. The wall in the front lobby is lined with pictures of champions.
According to the brochure, Nina’s has produced hundreds of individual state champions, regional champions and national finalists as well as two national champions, two national team members and six elite gymnasts.
Even though Simon’s future in gymnastics is bright, she’s not looking to be an Olympian.
“I love the people here and I love gymnastics; it’s so entertaining and it’s so natural to me,” she said. “I just want to stay at this gym with everyone here. They’re like my family.”
Like any 10-year-old girl, Simon is responsible for getting all of her homework done before practice but at 5 p.m., she’s on the mats flipping and vaulting until 8:30 p.m. Her only day off is Sunday.
“I’m friends with everyone here,” she said. “I love coming here because they are all really friendly and full of enthusiasm.”
Kolpakchi said the key to producing great athletes is having great coaches.
“That is the only thing that matters,” he said. “A kid can come in talented but if they don’t have a good coach, then nothing comes of it. The coach makes the gymnast, the gymnast does not make the coach.”
Other winners from Nina’s Gymnastics include Samantha Lydon, who took first place on beam and floor and won state all-around champion in a different age group from Simon; Sydney Thomas-Lutchmedial, who came home as the Level 6 beam champion; and Pamela Amabile, who was the state Level 6 vault champion.
Levels determine the amount of difficulty the athletes are expected to execute during competition.
Simon will be moving up to Level 6 or 7, depending on which Kolpakchi feels is more suitable.