By Jeff Nations
WINCHESTER -- The handstands were the first clue that Jonathan Carrier might have a future in gymnastics.
The Warren County High School freshman used to goof off at home, walking on his hands just for fun. Finally, when he was 9 years old, his mother, Elaine, suggested he give gymnastics a shot.
"It's pretty late, I guess," Jonathan Carrier said. "All I did was like handstands around the house, just walking on my hands. My mom was like, 'You should go to gymnastics,' and I'm like, 'That's a girls sport.' And then I went and I guess I liked it because I kept going."
That decision is looking smarter all the time, as evidenced by Carrier's most recent performance at the USA Gymnastics Region 7 meet in Colts Neck, N.J. Competing for the first time ever in the seven-state Region 7 meet, Carrier posted his personal-best all-around score and placed sixth overall on the vault with a 10.0 score.
Carrier had qualified for the regional competition in past years, but this was the first time he'd decided to test his skills against gymnasts from Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia.
"I just basically thought of it as another competition," Carrier said. "I was trying not to overthink it, I guess, so I wouldn't mess up."
The competition consisted of six events -- the vault, parallel bars, high bar, floor, pommel horse and rings. Opening with the vault worked out perfectly for Carrier, who scored a perfect 10 on that event.
"I feel like I'm pretty good at that event," Carrier said. "I feel like it's one of the easiest events there is for me."
Carrier kept rolling from there, notching a 9.1 on the parallel bar, a 9.0 on the high bar and a 9.2 on the floor before running into a bit of trouble with the pommel horse (7.6). He finished up strong, scoring a 9.0 on the rings to complete the April 6 competition with a personal-best 54.
Nathan Crawford, who serves as Carrier's primary coach at Winchester's Competitive Edge Gymnastics, said the 15-year-old made a big jump at the regional competition.
"It was really a good meet for him," Crawford said. "I was really impressed by him.
"From the state meet to his regional, he went up in his all-around by five points or something like that. That's averaging 0.8 or 0.9 an event, which 0.9 in gymnastics is a lot for an event."
Making Carrier's performance all the more impressive -- he doesn't log nearly the practice time some of his competitors are able to put in every week.
"That's' a huge question because for him, he's here about 10 hours a week," Elaine Carrier said. "A lot of the kids he's competing against are in the gym about 14 hours and up per week. He doesn't get as much gym time, but he's still competing at their level."
The next step for Jonathan Carrier is to move up to Level 7, which Crawford expects will happen this summer.
"He's progressing pretty well," Crawford said. "He's not in here as often as he probably should be for his level, but when we're in here we try to be as efficient as possible."
The one event Carrier needs to work on the most is the high bar, where he still must master giants -- a fall while practicing that maneuver without bar straps left him feeling a bit uneasy about that.
"The high bar is one of the worst things, but everything else I can definitely improve on," Carrier said. "By high bar being my worst, I mean I don't have exactly everything for Level 7. I don't have all the skills. The giants is the thing I need for Level 7."
Crawford said Carrier is getting there -- recently, he did two giants without the safety straps.
Carrier has no long-term plan for gymnastics, but he sees no reason to stop now, either.
"I like a lot of things about it," Carrier said. "It's fun to do. I like other sports, but I like this one because I can do flips and stuff like that."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or email@example.com>