Balance, determination fuel Hornung’s gymnastics career
Friday, June 1, 2018 | 12:24 AM
After finishing her USA Gymnastics Level 10 Junior Olympics career with a top-10 finish, Hampton's Rachel Hornung celebrated the only way she knows how.
Hitting the gym the next day.
The JO Nationals, held May 12-13 at Duke Energy Convention Center in Cincinnati, served as the culmination of a lifelong childhood journey that included social sacrifice and six-day work weeks that required overcoming adversity, bumps, bruises, falls and frustration.
“It was my last JO meet, and I wanted to do really well,” said Hornung, who earned a scholarship to West Virginia. “I knew the only thing that could come out of the meet was me doing well. There's no next level. So I just decided to go out and have fun with it.”
When the final results were in, all the majestic leaps, handsprings and flips carefully crafted and perfected during a decade of practice were worth it. The senior at Hampton finished ninth in the all-around, including sixth on the beam.
Additionally, she made the all-star team after placing third in the all-around at the Region 7 Level 10 championships in April.
Hornung competes for Pittsburgh North Stars out of Jewart's Gymnastics in Hampton Township. Lainy Carslaw, who has been coaching Hornung the past 12 years, has watched her evolve into a talented gymnast and tireless worker.
“They make a ton of sacrifices, and it's a huge commitment,” Carslaw said. “Rachel never misses. If there's a day she's not in the gym, it feels a little bit off. It's her home and it's her passion. For her, it's second nature. It's part of her rhythm and part of her life.”
Developing rhythm and routine has taken Hornung to heights nationally most high school gymnasts dream of. After qualifying for Level 9 nationals as an eighth-grader, Hornung competed for the high school team as a freshman and helped lead Hampton to its first team WPIAL title, along with capturing individual gold in the all-around.
What would serve to many as a crowning achievement was simply a footnote in the beginning of her high school career.
“College coaches don't really look at high school gymnastics,” Hornung said. “I sat down with my parents. High school wasn't necessary to reach the goals I wanted. I just wanted to focus on other stuff.”
For some teenagers, other stuff amounts to an extracurricular activity. But serious competition in gymnastics can be all-consuming.
Hornung goes to school and then practice. She practices on weekends, too. Six days per week, three to four hours per day. She goes home and hits the books.
Little time is left to go out with friends after school or go to the football games on Friday nights.
“There's always times I'd question it,” she said. “It's hard on your body, hard on you mentally, coming home crying because you can't get something right. But I realized if I take a day off at the gym, I really do miss it. And I really love gymnastics.”
Adversity is eased by teammates with whom Hornung spends nearly every day perfecting each routine.
Being in the trenches with others helps the girls to develop an empathetic bond.
As an added bonus, older brother Ryan competed out of Jewart's Gymnastics, and went on to compete on the club team at Cornell University.
“We'd always be arguing about who did the better skill,” she said. “It pushed me because I always wanted to do better than him.”
Earning a college scholarship offer also brought difficulties for Hornung after missing nationals as a sophomore. She was offered by Eastern Michigan, Bowling Green, Pitt and a walk-on tryout at Michigan.
“If you don't have an offer in eighth or ninth grade,” Carslaw said, “you feel your chances are getting slimmer and slimmer. After she missed nationals in 10th grade, we started getting a little worried.”
Carslaw was able to convince Mountaineers associate head coach Travis Doak to attend a practice session. One look was all he needed. Hornung was offered on the spot.
“She had her goal in mind,” Carslaw said. “When you work that hard and are that focused, there's no way you're not going to achieve it. She worked for everything she got and made it possible. We were just along for the ride, really.”
Hornung has made overcoming mental and physical anguish a part of her routine.
Devon Moore is a freelance writer.