“I don’t like to be cocky, just move on and work to the next level,” he said.
Sam won the all-around competition without placing first in any event. He placed second in rings and vault and fifth on pommel horse. He placed seventh in parallel bars and high bar. “If I had pointed my feet instead of flexing I would have been in the medals,” Sam said. “It’s all about perfection.”
At this competition, Sam also competed with injuries including two sprained ankles, a finger sprain and a rib that slipped out of place, which he did that week.
Sam competes in the six male events, floor, pommel horse, rings, vault, parallel bars and high bar as a part of the Yellow Jackets from Middleton, Massachusetts. He said that he’s “pretty good” at rings, but his favorite is parallel bars. Sam travels with his mom, Renee, four or five times per week to Massachusetts for training. He is in Region 6 and competes in eight or nine meets in a season as a level 9 gymnast.
“There are no gyms for this level in Maine,” Renee said. He leaves right from Windham High School and arrives home at 10:30 p.m. each night. “He snoozes and I drive,” she added.
“I love it. I love being active. I’ve been doing it since I was three. It’s part of my life now,” Sam said. “My friends are supportive. They think it’s cool what I do.”
Sam still has to take gym class at WHS. When they did fitness testing this year, he broke the school’s push up record with 47. He also takes some honors classes, keeping a balance between training and school. There is no end of the season for Sam. “It’s a year round grind.” He did say he has three days off at Christmas.
“I train, go home, eat, rest, go to bed, wake up train,” he said joking about his summer schedule.
Sam’s coach Steve Randall has been coaching him for eight years, first at the Maine Academy of Gymnastics and then at a gym in Kennebunk before Sam committed to following Randall to Massachusetts in November to continue training.
When asked what his best skill was, he quoted his coach. “It’s not what you do, it’s how you do what you do.” That means that even if you can do a hard skill, it doesn’t matter because of the deductions a gymnast will get for small imperfections will hurt the score.
He is working on a new high bar dismount that includes two flips with a full turn on the second and a laid out full. On the vault, he is working on a dismount that involves a 720 turn while in the air. There is always something new to work on.
His goal is to go to a college to compete on an NCAA team. When asked if the Olympics were in his future, he responded, “I would like them to be.” He’s gunning for the 2024 Olympics after college when he’ll be older and an elite gymnast. Top gymnastics schools are Oklahoma, Michigan, Illinois and Ohio, but he’s not limiting himself at this point.
This year’s National competition was a way to redeem what he saw as a disappointing finish last year. He came in second by half a point because he fell. “In three more years, I could be a five time National Champion,” Sam said. In the fall he will begin competing at Level 10.
About Sam’s present goals…“Our goal is to avoid injury as much as possible,” Renee said at the same time Sam said, “To stay healthy.”
“Men’s gymnastics is the big unknown. It’s thrilling and exciting,” Renee said. Most high schools don’t have gymnastics programs because of the insurance for the high risk sport. “Men’s is so much more exciting to watch (than girls),” she added.
“Most people see it as a girls’ sport,” Sam said. However, he proves that wrong.
The commitment is a family one, Renee said. Sam has lived in Windham since he was 9 months old, but now the family is putting the house on the market and moving to New Hampshire to be closer to family and to the Yellow Jackets gym.
He will miss his friends, but with his eye on the prize and next year’s competitions which begin in December, Sam is driven and focused.