Gymnastics: Mattituck gymnast keeps her feet planted

COURTESY PHOTO | Jen Lengyel, shown working on the balance beam, won a silver medal in the vault in a national meet.

While preparing for the recent United States Association of Independent Gymnastics Clubs national meet in Palm Springs, Calif., Jen Lengyel had no delusions of grandeur of winning any medals. “I just wanted to do the best I can,” she said.

She did — and then some.

Lengyel, 17, who will be a senior at Mattituck High School this fall, won a medal — a silver one in the vault in the national meet. “Achieving a silver medal in the vault was perfectly fine with me,” she said.

It wasn’t that she didn’t have confidence in herself, Lengyel realized that stepping up from state competition meets to the nationals was a giant step. She was the only New York competitor to qualify from the platinum division for the nationals. This was her second trip to the nationals.

“The stakes were so much higher because of the international competition there,” Lengyel said, noting there were gymnasts from Canada, Bermuda and South Africa competing. “I knew going into the competition it was going to be very hard.”

On the first day of the two-day nationals, Lengyel finished fourth in the vault, qualifying her for the finals the next day. She also took top-10 places in the balance beam, uneven bars and floor exercise, but only the top five in each event reached the finals.

COURTESY PHOTO | Jen Lengyel, right, and her coach, Bonnie Bracco, show the silver medal that Lengyel earned.

“For me, competing in all four is just as good as one,” she said. “I focus on all four. It doesn’t bother me whether it’s one or four of them.”

Lengyel finished second in the vault with an 8.850 score, behind Anastacia Hunus (Sports Club, Mich.) at 9.275.

The 5-foot-3, 130-pound Lengyel has trained at and competed out of GymNation in Riverhead. She has been there regularly since she took Mommy and Me classes.

“It’s been like my second home since I was 2 years old,” she said.

Mattituck High School does not have a girls gymnastics team, so Lengyel has had to compete on her own.

“It’s taken me a lot of time and determination to put me where I am today,” she said. “The whole point for me is to go above and beyond the goal you dream of. That’s the best feeling to me. That’s why I am in this sport.”

While Lengyel has been winning medals and championships, she realized that she wouldn’t have gotten this far — literally and figuratively — without the support of her parents, who drove her to training sessions and competitions.

“They’ve just been … supportive in every decision that I’ve made,” she said. “There were times when I didn’t want to go to practice or was too nervous to compete. They didn’t really push me to do it. They said, ‘You have to commit to it to get better.’

“They have been a tremendous help. I can’t thank them more for the sacrifice they made for me.”

At the moment Lengyel said she is in her summer training mode.

“I start to acquire new skills for the next competitive season so I can do even better next year,” she said.

The gymnastics season usually runs from October and November through the end of June.

Lengyel said she would love to compete in the Olympics, but she is wise and mature enough to realize that is a long shot.

“Of course, when I was younger, when I started out, I watched the Olympics and said, ‘That’s where I want to be, representing the USA,’ ” she said. “Now that I’m finishing high school, I have to focus on my career.

“It’s still a goal. If I don’t make it, I’m O.K. with that. I’ve done O.K. so far.”

Her ultimate goal? That would be to own her own clothing store. So, Lengyel plans to major in business marketing. Lengyel hasn’t made a decision on where she will attend college, although LIM College in New York City, Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla., and a couple of SUNY schools are possibilities.

“Ever since I was little, I knew fashion was the way to go for me,” she said.

But until Lengyel, ahem, takes that big vault into college, she will keep herself focused on her present goal.

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