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Paige Pretorius: Tiny But Mighty

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At just 12 years old, gymnast Paige Pretorius has progressed quickly through the ranks of youth gymnastics en route to reaching level 10 – the highest one can reach before the collegiate level. Though this is Paige’s first year at this echelon, she has already made waves by placing fourth in regional competition. She even earned a silver medal on the beam. Her bracket, which is Region 8, consists of gymnasts from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee.

Her performance was enough to send her to Nationals alongside six other competitors from her region. As each region sends seven players, Paige, and 55 other gymnasts in her age group will travel to Oklahoma City for the Developmental Program USA Gymnastics 2023 National Championships on the weekend of May 12-14. With many skilled athletes and 60 universities set to attend, what will set Paige apart from her competitors? Her mother, Susan Pretorius, detailed just what makes the 12-year-old a special gymnast.

“Paige has an amazing work ethic, for recently turning 12 years old,” Susan Pretorius said. “I’ve been told by her coaches that she hears and applies every correction they may give her… I have been told numerous times that her ‘mindset’ is what makes her so amazing. She knows the commitment and sacrifices she and the family have to make to give her this opportunity. She respects this and gives gymnastics everything she has. Paige is a tiny but mighty gymnast. [I] have often said she has the strength of ten men.”

After beginning gymnastics at five years old, it was quickly identified that the younger Pretorius had an affinity for gymnastics. Once she began to pick up the skills, she was invited onto a team in a matter of months. From there, she rapidly ascended the various levels on her way to level 10. Paige’s mother quipped that she was not so sure that her daughter chose gymnastics, but rather, “Gymnastics chose her!”

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But things have not been easy. There have been injuries and setbacks that have challenged the young gymnast on her journey. With the rigors of the sport, Paige has suffered a broken foot, a torn hamstring, severe whiplash, and received 22 stitches after hitting her forehead on the bar. As difficult as these were for her, there was another aspect that put a wrench in the works – coaching changes.

“That is difficult for gymnasts,” Susan Pretorius said. “They need consistency. It was difficult to start over with new coaches so often. They have different styles and techniques, and personalities. Finally, we decided it was time to move on. We made the bold decision to move. We found LaFleur’s in Tampa. Was the grass greener? Oh yeah, even after two years. The consistency, kindness in coaching, talent in coaching, support for the girls, the ability to ‘see’ their athletes, and what drive they have. The best decision we made.”

With Paige practicing four and half hours a day and six days a week at LaFleur’s Tampa, she is learning collegiate techniques such as a specific triple series on beam by her beam and Floor Coach Alecis Pollina. Her other coach, Jeff LaFleur, who is instructing her on bar and vault, has even trained former Olympic gymnast Dominique Moceanu. Along with her triple series, she is bringing other new techniques, such as a Yurchenko full twist off of vault, to the National Championships as well.

“I feel that my coaches and mom prepared and supported me to get where I am today,” Paige said. “After all I have trained and sacrificed, I am ready! This is literally a dream come true. Qualifying for Nationals as a first-year level 10 is so exciting. I couldn’t be more excited and happy. I am so proud to represent Region 8.”

While the events at the Oklahoma City Convention Center begin on Friday, sign-in and opening ceremonies are on Thursday, and the event extends until Sunday. Paige Pretorius, her parents, and her coaches will look for her to take home the gold later this month.

Austyn Szempruch
Austyn Szempruch
Austyn Szempruch is a Graduate with Distinction, University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. He's written numerous articles reporting on Florida Gators football, basketball, and soccer teams; the sports of rugby, basketball, professional baseball, hockey, and the NFL Draft. Prior to Hernando Sun he was a contributor to ESPN, Gainesville, FL and Gator Country Multimedia, Inc. in Gainesville, FL, and Stadium Gale.
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