NEW PALESTINE — As her arms vigorously waved in a circular motion, New Palestine senior Emily Heighway leaned backwards on the 4-inch wide balance beam. Eventually regaining control while cracking a smile, Heighway finished her first-place routine with ease. Sometimes, gymnastics can be beautiful and precise. Other times, not so much.
Recently, no one knows this better than Heighway.
Deciding to solely focus on club gymnastics last year after two painful, injury-riddled seasons as a freshman and sophomore at New Palestine, Heighway is back with the Dragons for her final year of high school. And just weeks into a new season, the veteran has already made her presence felt.
On Saturday, Heighway walked out of the New Palestine Elementary gymnasium with four blue ribbons at the team’s six-way meet, further building on an already impressive senior campaign.
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She finished with a score of 35.90 to take first in the all-around competition. Her teammate, Faith Land, was sixth overall with a score of 32.80.
Heighway totaled a 9.25 on the vault and a 9.10 on the balance beam, which would have been a half point less had she dropped to the floor. She also scored a 9.025 on the floor exercise and a 8.525 on the uneven bars.
“I always tell myself that a bobble is better than a fall,” Heighway said. “Girls can fall and still win; I just tell myself that I have to finish.
“I really wanted to finish out my senior year with the team. I love the team aspect of gymnastics, and they are all always cheering for each other.”
As a team, New Palestine (9-1) scored a 101.45 to top Richmond (98.05), New Castle (94.65), Seton Catholic (64.275), Centerville (62.2) and Pendleton Heights (33.575), which had just one competitor.
Also for the Dragons, Bailey Watkins was fifth (8.425) with her floor exercise routine, while Land fourth (8.475) on the balance beam. On the uneven bars, Grace Shanahan was fourth (7.975) and Land tied for fifth. On vault, Watkins and Land tied for sixth with a score of 8.7.
“I told the girls that if we scored a 102, I would buy them McDonald’s after the meet,” New Palestine head coach Debbie Bruns joked during the awards ceremony on Saturday as her team let out a big sigh.
“Today took some of the pressure off (compared to Columbus North Thursday).”
However, for Heighway, who is also a cheerleader at the school, things haven’t always been this easy.
Dawning a thick, black ankle brace during competition, Heighway’s body has become almost as fragile as ice since trying the sport out as a four-year-old. After having surgery on both her left and right ankles before her junior season, the senior now makes sure both are wrapped in braces during the floor exercise portion of meets.
“I had to get part of my talus bone shaved off,” Heighway said. “They did total ankle reconstruction and removed a bunch of scar tissue. That was the first surgery. The second, I had two torn peroneal tendons, which is a little further down (deeper in ankle) and they didn’t see it.
“The surgeries were just eight months apart. A year ago now was my first meet back (with club).”
Those injuries, and a dedication to club gymnastics (Gymnastics Unlimited), had a hand in Heighway choosing not to tryout for the team her junior season. In fact, she didn’t even plan to go out for the Dragons as a sophomore.
“I talked her into coming out a couple years ago,” Bruns said, who was an assistant coach during Heighway’s sophomore season. “We had just started practicing and she came in a couple weeks late. She had had an ankle surgery, so I said just do the bars for us. That team was going to state, but we just needed that third person on bars.”
At state that season, New Palestine finished sixth overall with Heighway placing second on the team on the uneven bars behind then-senior Regan Elsea. She finished with an 8.85.
“She did a phenomenal job and worked really hard,” Bruns added.
Heighway, who is currently battling a back injury as well, said her dream as a kid was to compete in the sport at the college level. Now, though, she said will be happy if her body makes it to the end of the season.
According to Bruns, Heighway isn’t the only one on the team who is a little banged up. It comes with the sport.
“We are always dealing with old injuries,” Bruns said. “Most of the girls have been doing this for 10-plus years or more. For them, is it worth it over the pain?”
Heighway began the season with an all-around win as the Dragons beat Connersville and New Castle. She followed that up with four first-place finishes against Shelbyville and Waldron in the team’s home opener. Against defending state champion Columbus North last week, Heighway posted three top-five finishes and finished fourth with an all-around score of 33.275.
“It’s been a very long journey back,” Heighway admitted.
New Palestine, which celebrated its 40th anniversary with a gymnastics program on Saturday, will compete again today at home against Morristown and Scecina.
New Palestine – 101.45
Richmond – 98.05
New Castle – 94.65
Seton Catholic – 64.275
Centerville – 62.2
Pendleton Heights – 33.575
Emily Heighway, NP – 35.90
Kierstyn Cochran, NC – 34.65
Eva Bosell, RHS – 34.30
Emily Heighway, NP – 9.025
Kierstyn Cochran, NC – 8.975
Becca Catey, SC – 8.675
Emily Heighway, NP – 9.1
Sarah Rowe, CV – 8.8
Cassie Zehr, PH – 8.65
Emily Heighway, NP – 8.525
Eva Bosell, RHS – 8.45
Kierstyn Cochran, NC – 8.35
Emily Heighway, NP – 9.25
Eva Bosell, RHS – 9.1
Kierstyn Cochran, NC – 9.1