On an "extra bouncy floor," as Stewart described it, she makes one pass using a five-skill set and the following using an eight-skill set, where all skills are done in consecutive fashion, connecting to form a dizzying array of intense acrobatics. To help acclimate her mind, and stomach, to the constant flips and spins, Stewart has had the benefit of using the Effingham Academy of Gymnastics as her training facility. Her father Mark is the coach, which created an interesting dynamic when the two first traveled the national circuit, though the relationship has been nothing but smooth in recent times.
"At first it was kind of a challenge when my parents bought the gym," Stewart said. "There was way more pressure than there was on the other kids, saying, 'You're dad is the coach, you better be the best.'
"Once we found that balance of father-daughter, coach-athlete, it was better. When we were in the gym, we turned it on. When we were at home, we turned it off. He made me grow as an athlete."
Stewart's list of accolades is a long one. She won the AAU Scholarship in 2012, then followed that up with a USTA Scholarship this past June and the Joel Ferrell Award for athletic achievement and sportsmanship. Her performance in Detroit also marked the end to a two-year contract she signed as a member of the USTA national team.The sophomore at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville traveled back to Effingham on a number of weekends during her freshman year, going to great lengths to balance the rigors of her academic, social and tumbling schedules.
She can now breathe a little easier, knowing at least her tumbling calendar has just been cleared.
"It's kind of a new beginning," the English major said. "I get to concentrate on a lot of other aspects I haven't really in a while. Maybe look into some other sports recreationally. When a sport is all you're about for several years, it's kind of nice to be finally free of that."
And a few gold medals to remember it by.
Braden Layer can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 123, or at firstname.lastname@example.org