Juniors pursue unique athletic passions

By Eishna Ranganathan
News Editor

Olympians at heart, four female juniors participate in hobbies in the athletic arena beyond the threshold of Neshaminy High School. They invest time in interests vastly different from the spirit of cheerleading or bat-and-ball structure of softball.

Since age nine, Emily Murphy has done equestrian – a hobby that stemmed from a day in the park when she saw a pony and upon going to pet it, the owner suggested she join a horseback-riding class. Along with the support of her parents, who often critique her in potential-improvement areas, she now has expanded this pastime by working as an assistant, helping kids learn how to sit, saddle and mount, with the Pony Party People.

She rides Junior, her main American Quarter Horse, in training, focusing on increasing the height of jumps, and cantering, her favorite type of gait since it is based on a fast, yet steady, beat.

Judges chose competition winners on the basis of the rider’s connectedness with his/her horse, which is seen through several horse-rider synchronization events ranging from gallop to trot to jumping capability as well as equitation, a rating based on how well groomed the horse appears.

“I love how you develop a strong bond – a rider can hear its horse. You learn a lot about caring for animals and, in a way, a horse becomes your best friend. And even if you fall off, you overcome the fear and improve on the technique which made you fall and become a better rider,” Murphy said.

Bridgette Olavage joined Taekwondo at the age of seven and with the vehement support of her father, who aided her in training, and continues to participate in various tournaments as a junior today.

“There are all different categories …. Forms or katas – a set of moves choreographed together – can range drastically because participants do all kinds of karate and martial arts. Sparring or fighting is won by points, how many legal blows your opponent was able to score,” she said.

Weaponry also serves as a major aspect in mixed martial arts. The ability to handle a bo staff with fluidity must be attained by repetition in practice. The self-dense aspect involves Olavage memorizing the various types of offense movements and the ability to counteract them with quick thinking and physical integrity. Her team also performs demo tournaments, which combining individual aspects (e.g. board-breaking, katas, weapons) with harmony to music.

“What matters most to me would be that Taekwondo taught me discipline and respect; not only respect for others, such as my opponent, but myself and property. It teaches a clear sense of right and wrong,” Olavage said.

Touche, en garde, allez, pret – all familiar terminology to Selene Presley, who fences in her leisure time and trains on a weekly basis alongside the Bucks County Academy of Fencing, centered in Lambertville, NJ. Outside of those sesssions, she keeps a notebook in order to record various techniques, personal strengths and other fencer’s strengths to acquire.

Her involvement in the sport was ignited by her father’s stories about being a former fencer; she started in seventh grade for exercise and enjoyment. Fencing is open to anyone of any age. It is a sport geared to thinking over endurance – a clear mind outweighs hitting the gym.

Presley’s favorites involve the Beat Four and the Flying Eight. “You always have to think. It’s like playing mind games with the opponent while on the move. Strategy is essential. Even if you lose, you still learn from the bout and that makes you want to keep going,” she said.

Starting at the age nine with the desire to improve her times, Melissa Gomez is now the fastest female cup stacker in America with a record of 6.463 seconds for the cycle stack. She received her cups as a Christmas present seven years ago and created a YouTube channel with tutorials for beginners. Coincidentally, one of the viewers cup-stacked as part of an organization called the World Sports Stacking Association (WSSA), and from then on she became part of team USA.

At competitions there are three official stacks and team relays, so training is repetition-based. Gomez is heading to Montreal, Canada in Apr. for the next international tournament, but previously has traveled to Iowa, Texas in Colorado. She has broken national records several times, and once in practice as well on Apr. 3, in which she broke the six-second barrier for the cycle stack; currently, the fastest person performed it in 5.10 sec.

“My motto is ‘the heart of human excellence often begins to beat when you discover a pursuit that absorbs you, frees you, challenges you, or gives you a sense of meaning, joy, or passion. Even if I don’t make it to finals, I still enjoy representing my country in an international standpoint,” Gomez said. “And the travel experience is pretty cool as well.”

What started out as leisurely pastimes, have now become part of the girls’ central identities.