By RANDY GREGORY
Rockford has seen it’s fair share of athletes achieve national prominence over the last decade or so. Dathan Ritzenhein and Jason Hartmann in the world of long distance running and All Pro offensive lineman Joe Staley of the San Francisco 49ers are the headliners. But there is another member of the proud Ram sports fraternity who has somehow found a way to slip through the cracks.
Upcoming Ram sophomore Brehanna Showers claimed a pair of gold medals in individual events (vault, floor exercise) at the United States Junior Olympics held in Minneapolis, Minnesota in May. She also finished in second-place in the All-Around standings to complete a memorable week of festivities for the 15-year old. The results guaranteed her a spot on the US national team and she will represent Region 5 (comprised of gymnasts from Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky and Ohio). As such it entitles Showers to take a trip to London and Brussels where she will participate in clinics and learn some valuable pointers in Europe.
“I wasn’t even aware of what position I was in until they posted the final scores,” said Showers. “There were just so many other girls competing it was difficult to keep track of where I stood. I knew I had done well but you just never know where you will end up until they name the placers. I was just thrilled when they announced the final results.”
Showers competed as a level 10 gymnast (the highest level at the Junior Olympics) in Minneapolis. For comparison’s sake, that is the same division (Elite) as the marvelous athletes we all are awed by who compete in the Olympics.
Showers’ journey to the big stage began at a time when most of us are just becoming a bit more comfortable being out of Mom and Dad’s arms. In her case it was more like flipping and tumbling from those arms.
“I started out when I was just three-years old,” said Showers. “I started doing it competitively when I was nine or ten and have just gone from there. My coaches at where I train now have been a huge part of my success and
have always been my coaches.”
Those coaches, Rachel Rydbeck and Daniel McCarty, have only been officially at this for three years but are exploding into a prominent position of their own led by Showers and Lindsay Lemke from Holt, MI, who recently verbally committed to the University of North Carolina.
Rydbeck is the owner of R-Athletics (2845 Thornhills Road in Cascade) and is ably assisted by McCarty who is officially listed as the Co-Head Coach along with Rydbeck.
Rydbeck is elated with the progression through the ranks that Showers has achieved. “Brehanna was just someone who stood out from the beginning,” said Rydbeck. “We started out running a gymnastics program through Rockford Community Education and she was one of the athletes you couldn’t help but take notice of. All kids are different with the level they progress at, but Brehanna has consistently gotten better at every facet of the sport over the years. We teach gymnastics to kids ranging in age from 18-months to college level and Brehanna is definitely one of our trailblazers. She has a very bright future.”
Showers has the inherent advantage of coming from an extremely athletic family. She is the fourth of five children of Scot and Nancy Showers of Belmont. Her siblings include Karliane, who played softball at Grand Rapids Community College, Shain, who just finished his freshman season as the starting shortstop for the University of Evansville, Brent, who will be a senior at Rockford and is an All-Stater in both football and baseball, and youngest brother Kahle, who also is a multiple sport standout but has a bit to go before leaving his mark at RHS.
The commitment of Brehanna to her sport is something that is hard to believe for the commoners like myself. Five days a week for five hours a day and year round she trains at R-Athletics. And that doesn’t include all the time she spends as a student at Rockford High School, where she maintains a 3.9 GPA, and only misses school for the occasional national event. She also dabbles in the pole vault when her schedule permits and is an 11-foot plus vaulter when her schedule allows. Where her ceiling lies in that event is something we will always wonder about while she maintains her devotion to gymnastics.
With three more years of high school ahead of her, Brehanna still has a world of time before making her ultimate collegiate destination, one would think. But in the world of high-level gymnastics, the pressure to commit for athletes of her ilk is extremely high at an unusually young age.
“She has already taken an unofficial visit to the University of Michigan but she has gotten invitations from all of the gymnastic powerhouses in the country to take an official visit,” said Rydbeck. “She has letters from LSU, Georgia, Florida, Stanford and others that want her to take a look on an official visit to their institutions. I think her next step is to break things down to a final five and take her officials so that she and her parents can make a decision. She is in an enviable position for someone as young as she is and wherever she ends up she will be a fantastic addition.”
As for any Olympic aspirations, Brehanna doesn’t feel she has a great chance of making it that far.
“I think my size (she is 5’6″) plays against me somewhat,” said Showers. “That is quite tall for a gymnast and combined with the fact that I got a pretty late start in training competitively to develop my skill level it would make that very difficult. I would really just like to make it to a Division 1 school and compete at a very high level there.”
But Rydbeck gives her talented charge a little bit more of a chance than that. “I think she is probably pretty realistic there with her analysis,” said Rydbeck. “But there are several girls who have competed in college and gotten back to the Olympics at that point. Brehanna is the type of athlete who has the rare combination of natural ability and tenacity that makes you take a step back and say there still is a chance.”
Wherever the future leads, Showers has done an incredible job of being yet another standout for what is rapidly becoming a very distinguished list of former Ram athletes. Well done Brehanna!