Photo by Christine Troyke
Michelle Shealy's favorite event is one with the smallest margin of error.
The balance beam is four inches across -- about the same width as an adult woman's foot at the ball joint -- and four feet off the ground.
Shealy is a national champion in the event, a title she won last year and will try for again next month in Dallas.
"Of all events to be a national champion, that shows her grit as a performer to just be able to tune everything out and stay on the four-foot high, four-inch wide beam," said Gwyn Puckett, her coach at Providence Christian. "As a competitor she is so focused and it's almost like she can just tune everything out and it's Michelle and the piece of equipment she's competing on. Which is amazing."
Maybe some of that ability to tune things out comes from growing up as one of six kids. But Shealy also comes by some of her skills naturally.
"My dad was a gymnast and I'm No. 4 out of six," she said. "Some of my older siblings had tried it, too. But I was the only one who stuck with it."
The beam is her favorite, but it was another discipline where Shealy was found perfect.
She was given a 10 for her floor routine at last year's state high school meet and helped the Stars win the team championship. It was Providence's first year competing in gymnastics again after a 10-year hiatus.
"State was great," Shealy said. "It was so much fun."
The atmosphere was especially thrilling in the wake of her floor performance.
"I knew it was a good routine, one of my best," Shealy said. "We had some fans there and so I was kind of relating with the crowd during the routine. Afterwards, people were shouting '10!' in the crowd, but I didn't know. Then they raised the score, we all just went wild. So it was fun.
"That was one of my big goals and to reach that was just awesome."
Another key member of that team, Trystien Charles, was lost to an Achilles tendon injury two weeks ago and the Stars failed to qualify for this weekend's state meet. But Shealy still earned a spot as an individual competitor and so has a chance to repeat as a champion there as well.
"She's a gritty competitor because she can just save a routine if it's just slightly off," Puckett said. "And in gymnastics, routines can be just a hair off and you're off the beam.
"She also competes with humility. She's not one to boast or brag -- about anything. And that's just her character. She's a humble champion."
Puckett began coaching Shealy 12 years ago as a preschooler. Shealy came to the Gwinnett Gymnastics Center when she was about 4 years old.
Shealy worked her way up to the elite level, where Olympians come from, but she backed off because the goal was always a college scholarship.
"I was actually elite for one year," she said. "But my goal was never to go to the Olympics. A lot of people have asked me that. But my goal was always to get a college scholarship. So I backed down to level 10."
In November, Shealy signed a letter of intent to attend Iowa State on a full ride. She considered other schools, but had a connection with Iowa State and its coach, Jay Ronayne.
"The head coach, Jay, had come to our gym this summer for camp, so I kind of already knew him," Shealy said. "And my coach now (Courtney Oros), she went to Auburn, which is where he was, and she loves him. When I went there and saw everything else, I just loved it."