BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — Irem Aksoy brought home a first-place win in the vault during the YMCA National Championships last month.
The Waterville teen, a member of the Greater Toledo Gymcats, was one of 1,700 gymnasts from across the United States to converge on Cincinnati for the annual competition.
“Winning at the national level is pretty special,” said her coach, Jessie Hodulik. “She was going up against the best.”
Growing up in Istanbul, Turkey, Irem was 5 when she first began taking gymnastics lessons. Her focus was on the floor routine and the vault, but the vault is her favorite.
“That’s why it’s my best event. It’s so much easier, and I’m never scared,” the 13-year-old said.
As a vault coach, Hodulik said much of her training is convincing her students to run as fast as possible on the approach.
“It’s very physics-based. If you can get a kid to buy into running fast at an immobile object, they can fly through the air,” she said.
To make it to nationals, the Gymcats had to qualify in all four events. Irem and the rest of her teammates were able to make the cut. Once there, Irem competed in all four at the Xcel Gold level.
The YMCA uses different levels that are based not just on age but also skill level, Hodulik explained. It’s a system that keeps kids motivated in staying in the sport because they have more choices. After her win, Irem said she’s working toward her goal of reaching Xcel Platinum level. She practices two to two-and-a-half hours a week at the YMCA Gymnastics Center in Perrysburg. That’s a schedule that allows her time to be with her family and friends.
“Family time has become more important since COVID,” Hodulik said. “We get students joining us from other programs because they don’t want to spend 20 hours a week in a gym.”
Joining the YMCA was the perfect choice for Irem, especially after moving to the country from Turkey last August. Since then, she’s made friends on her team as well as at Anthony Wayne Junior High, where she will be an eighth-grader.