The young ladies of Arpi Avetyan's Glendale YMCA rhythmic gymnastics class were in high spirits as they rehearsed their moves Thursday afternoon.
The intermediate and advanced girls had just returned from a successful Junior Olympics state competition in La Jolla where Avetyan won regional coach of the year, and 9-year-old Leilani Hernandez of Glendale won a second-place silver medal in overall competition.
The girls also recently returned from a Junior Olympics competition in Oregon. The older students are now preparing to travel to Chicago for another Junior Olympics national competition later this month.
The class has been taking students to competitions for about three years, Avetyan said, traveling to Ohio and Virginia Beach.
"I was proud of these girls," said Avetyan. "They work pretty hard."
The YMCA program began five years ago with one student, but now includes more than 40. Avetyan, a gymnast, has been a member of the Glendale YMCA since she 5 and has always considered it her second home. Her motivation behind teaching rhythm gymnastics is the beauty behind the sport, she said.
"It brings confidence and a ballet/dance mix," Avetyan said. "It's a very girlie sport. And I thought, you know what, let me try it."
Even in rehearsal, the girls, ranging in age from 5 to 14, were decked out in their finest leotards. Each girl practiced an individual routine, manipulating ropes, hoops, clubs and ribbons.
Although the sport is highly competitive, coaches and parents make sure the experience is not overwhelming. The athletes are not driven to perform and always be No. 1, Avetyan said. Rather, they are encouraged to do their best and have fun.
"I want them to grow up make it to universities and go to big places," Avetyan said. "And I want them to remember, 'When I was 7 years old, I made it to the Junior Olympics.' I don't want them to forget that experience. That, for me, is way more important than pushing them to 'you need to be No. 1.'"
As a coach, Avetyan said her goal is to teach her gymnasts confidence in all they do and not pushing them down in any way.
"It feels great because I was second place out of 122," said Leilani, the silver medalist. "I was working really hard to go to Junior Olympics, and so my parents are trusting me and my coaches have been focusing on my routines. When I go there, I can be proud of myself and do the best I [can] so I can get a good score."
Leilani's mother, Sandra, said she makes sure her daughter has enough time during the day just to be a kid. That means serving her a good lunch, letting her watch her favorite cartoon shows and giving her enough time to do her homework.
"Her dream has always been to go to the Olympics," Sandra Hernandez said. "So I told her, dream big and we will do whatever it takes. And if it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen. She does this because she loves this."