FAIRBORN — When 15-year-old Kali Freeman arrived in Atlanta, Ga., for the USA Gymnastics Level 9 Eastern National Championships, her only goal was to enjoy the ride.
“We walked in and really didn’t have any expectations other than enjoying the experience and doing what we came here to do,” her coach Terri Logan said.
By the end of the weekend, Freeman would return to Fairborn with two national titles, one on vault and the other in all-around. She also placed second on bars, second on beam, and seventh on floor in her age group.
More than 900 gymnasts qualified for the USAG Eastern and Western National Championships, putting Freeman against the top Level 9 gymnasts in the nation. Freeman’s all-around score ranks her fourth in the United States, and third on the east coast.
When Freeman found out she was a national champion, she was shocked.
“There are a lot of really talented girls out there,” she said. “Knowing I was one of them was amazing.”
Freeman started gymnastics when she was two and a half years old in the parent-child class at B&B Gymnastics in Fairborn. Nowadays, she trains there 16 hours a week.
“It’s less than other gyms, but try to make it quality,” Logan said.
The road to nationals wasn’t easy. The gym’s regular season was cut short by COVID-19. Due to pandemic restrictions, Freeman and her team couldn’t train in the gym for three months.
“It was a lot of Zoom and trying to stay strong through that,” Logan said. “Even when we first came back, we weren’t allowed to spot many things. That was definitely different.”
Freeman and her team adapted to the changes, showing discipline by doing strength and flexibility training at home.
“Coming back from COVID, we focused on a lot of drills and what I need to work on,” she said.
Then, in October 2020, another setback. Freeman fell off of a beam and dislocated her growth plate in her wrist, putting her in a cast for six weeks.
“Gymnastics is a year-round sport,” Logan said. “The higher the level, the more hours you spend in the gym learning new skills and getting them perfected and ready for competition.”
While recovering from her injury, Freeman did as much as she could to maintain her strength. She would go on to finish third at the Ohio State Championships, and first at the Region 5 Championships. Freeman was also a member of the Region 5 Dream Team — which includes the top seven gymnasts from Ohio, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan — and helped the team take home the gold.
The best part of gymnastics has been the people she’s met at the competitions and at the gym, Freeman said.
“It was a lot of time and hard work, and support from friends and family,” she added.
Her hard work certainly paid off since, as Freeman describes it, vault was her worst event a year ago. Vault is a gymnastics event that requires an incredible amount of strength and speed.
“In vault, you’ve got to be able to run fast and punch the springboard,” Logan said. “We thought it would be cool to be in the top seven, and she walked away with a championship win. It’s been a really awesome opportunity, watching her get to experience more than I got to experience as a gymnast.”
B&B Gymnastics has been in business since 1989.
Reach London Bishop at 937-502-4532 or follow @LBishopFDH on Twitter.