By Martie Thompson
With determination and discipline that belies her 16 years, St. Johns resident and level 10 gymnast Jenna Mulligan qualified for the Junior Olympic National Championships, May 11 – 12 in Cincinnati. At her first time at nationals, she placed fifth on floor exercise, eighth on balance beam and 13th on vault, for an overall ranking of 39th in the U.S. According to her mom, Terri Arnold, Mulligan had a fall on uneven bars which hurt her ranking both on the apparatus and overall.
“We are very proud of her achievement,” Arnold said.
Mulligan began her gymnastics career at age two, when, with an abundance of energy, Arnold enrolled her in a gymnastics class. She said she immediately fell in love with the sport and started level 4 at about age four.
“Levels 4 through 6 are called ‘compulsory’ because all gymnasts do the same routines on each apparatus, including using the same music for the floor routine,” Mulligan said.
As an eight year old, she advanced to level 7, the first of the “optional” levels, where gymnasts may choose the skills, according to requirements, that they perform. Even at this young age, Mulligan was spending about four hours a day, four times a week at the gym. Each session included work on all four events — uneven bars, balance beam, floor exercise and vault — plus conditioning training and stretching. Today, at the top level 10, she spends about four and a half hours per session, five days a week perfecting her craft.
As for her favorite events, she said she likes beam because she knows what she needs to do and can be calm, and vault, because it’s quick and energetic and fun. Her highest score this season so far has been on vault.
She looks up to fellow gymnasts Maggie Nichols, who was on the U.S. National Team and is now competing for the University of Oklahoma, as well as Alex McMurtry, who just graduated from the University of Florida.
Mulligan is a sophomore at The Bolles School, where she takes a strong academic course load and participates in the school’s Pen Pal program with a second grader from the school. She also finds some time for fun on Friday nights during football season, where she has learned that if she leaves the gym at 7:30 p.m., she can get to the football stadium just in time for the halftime show and then the second half with her friends.
According to her father, Chuck Mulligan, most gymnasts at her level are homeschooled, but their family made the choice that education had to be first. Jenna Mulligan said that her typical day is to wake up at 6:30 a.m., go to school and then the gym and return home in the late evening for dinner and homework. On most days she is able to go to sleep by 11:30 p.m. and then do it all over again the next day.
“Gymnastics has taught me time management,” she said. “Luckily I do have a study hall at school each day, which means I have one hour less of work to do when I get home. Also, I’m ‘that’ student who is always doing schoolwork during lunch.”
She said that her hard work is definitely worth it. Her dad said she know that if the process ever stops being fun, she can stop gymnastics at any time. That doesn’t seem likely.
Mulligan said her goal is to go to a Division 1 college, hopefully on scholarship, and compete in gymnastics all four years while working on a premedical degree. She plans to then go to medical school to become an orthopaedic doctor.
Mulligan trains at Gymnastics Unlimited in Jacksonville and is coached by owner and head coach Lisa Beadle, Martin Barraclough, Ashanee Dickerson, and Bri Burnett.
Photos courtesy Istvan Pono, EBS Productions.