While most athletes dream to be in the top 100 of their sport, Ashley Locker has done it twice, and she’s only nine years old. That’s why the young gymnast has even bigger dreams of pursuing the Olympics.
Locker, a fourth grader at Lake Murray Elementary, recently returned from her second trip to the TOPs (Talent Opportunity Program) at the Olympic Training Center in New Waverly, Texas. TOPs is a national talent search and educational training program for female gymnasts ages seven to 10 and only the most elite gymnasts may attend.
“They (the gymnasts) go through state testing all summer long,” said Susan Locker, Ashley’s mother. “They test them on different skills and different strengths. Then, they score them and they take the top 100 in the whole country for each age group. If you’re in that top hundred, you get invited to come to the national testing and they do more skills and strength testing there.”
It’s no wonder Locker has been accepted into the elite program two years in a row. She trains five days a week at Lake Murray Gymnastics in Irmo, where she has been going since she was three years old.
Abby Reid, Locker’s coach, saw potential in the gymnast from an early age.
“I evaluated Ashley when she was three years old, right after she started recreational gymnastics,” said Reid. “At that point, I pulled her mom aside and said that she really showed some super good strength and flexibility for a kid her age and thought she would be very good for our team program. She started when she was three, didn’t start competing until she was four and I’ve been her coach all along the way.”
Ashley’s parents started her in gymnastics from a young age just to give her something to do, but she ended up falling in love with the sport.
“I like doing gymnastics because it keeps you active and you get to learn new skills and stuff. It’s really fun,” Ashley Locker said. “I feel good that I have been working hard to just get that skill and move up to a new level.”
While Ashley enjoys gymnastics, she admits balancing school with all of the practice and traveling can be tough.
“Sometimes I get home at 8:30 and I have a test the next day and I haven’t really worked on it that much yet,” she said.
According to Reid, one of the main reasons Locker is able to take on so much at such a young age is her determination.
“To do a sport like this is hard, but to be able to push yourself through some of the workouts we have and do it at a young age is even harder,” said Reid. “Ashley was very easy to step up to the plate and work hard and never really looked back.”
Just like most other successful athletes, Locker had her challenges in the beginning that she had to overcome.
“One of her struggles early on was learning how to climb the rope without her legs or doing the leg lifts without bending her knees,” said Reid. “Her persistence and determination to push through some of those harder things definitely makes her stand out in the sport.”
As for Locker’s future in gymnastics, she hopes to compete on the University of Alabama gymnastics team and someday try to qualify for the Olympics.
Her coach is fully supportive of these goals and believes Locker is far ahead of her fellow gymnasts.
“I would say she definitely has a leg up on most of the other kids that are her age, given that she’s qualified for a TOP national twice. Most kids have never even been to a state TOP testing level and the national testing. The TOPs program system is in line to make them ready for an elite program,” Reid said.
“We will be pursuing as far as we can get with her in hopes that we can get a college scholarship through pursuing the elite path. She is definitely in the right direction to make this goal happen.”