UNION TOWNSHIP — Softball was actually Makenna King’s first sport.
She didn’t find out about the whole gymnastics thing until she swung on a bar on the playground during recess as a third-grader at Wanatah School.
“I went to the library to get a book to teach myself to do a back handspring,” King said. “I told my dad, spot me like this. We took the pool tarp -- I thought it was a trampoline -- and I did roundoff back handsprings. Then, I pulled my legs in and did a roundoff back tuck. My oldest brother (Michael) was a cheerleader lifter. He would always throw me in the air when I was 4. In my grandparents’ barn, there’s hay and dirt piles. I remember I would tumble down them.”
Before long, mom Corey decided it was wise to see about putting her fearless, little fireball into the sport.
“She’s never been afraid,” Corey said. “She was very agile, climbing things, flipping on things. She was always out in the front yard, (saying) watch me, watch me. She’d flip forever. I thought, oh my gosh, she’s going to break her neck, she needs to have some sort of training.”
Soon began the formal career of a natural talent who six years later has soared to near-elite status at age 14 and has become South Central’s first gymnast in the 47-year IHSAA history of the sport.
“Everything comes very easily to me,” Makenna said. “I really haven’t had to try hard for anything. All the skills, I have no struggles. I’ve always been a little ball of muscle. I’m so strong, it makes everything easier.”
After a year at Perpetual Motion, where Makenna started as a Level 4, Corey saw her daughter’s potential and brought her to Lisa Whipps’ Indiana Elite Gymnastics Club. Kylee Maxwell, who won high school state titles competing for Morgan Township, trained there and became a role model for Makenna. By eighth grade, Makenna ascended to Level 9 despite missing time with first, a broken foot, then, last year, a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
“She’s a real strong kid,” Whipps said. “She’s very strong mentally, too. She’s an all-together strong kid.”
For about five years, the Kings have made the 30-, 35-minute trek from Hanna to the club, where Makenna trains five days a week, four hours a day.
“I get a snack break,” she joked. “Sometimes, I’m here until 8:30. Gymnastics shows responsibility, accountability, dedication. I love it. I like everyone watching me, cheering me on. I love softball, too. I’d have a hard time letting either one go. Softball gives me a nice break rather than just doing gymnastics.”
An outfielder and shortstop, Makenna will play for the Satellites in the spring, but doing gymnastics for the school wasn’t as simple of a process. Most girls at her level focus on club.
“It was suggested to us, being Level 9, that this would be a good year to try high school,” Corey said. “I give this gym all the credit. Kylee was here and she wanted to be just like her. I think it’s great of (South Central), allowing us to bring in the sport.”
South Central doesn’t have equipment or adequate facilities for practice, so Makenna does all of her training at Indiana Elite and uses a springboard from there for meets. S.C. Athletic Director Jarad Miller did the legwork to get her into meets. She has to compete in five to be eligible for the state tournament.
“It’s the fun effect, the cheering, the team aspect,” Makenna said of her choice. “Even though you don’t have a team, there are a lot of girls, Chesterton, Valpo, who cheer me on at the meet. If I don’t make it to college, I have this to fall back on. The school is very supportive of me. My gym teacher said, Makenna, if you make it to state, I will go. (Miller) chased me down the hall, (asking), hey Makenna, how did you do at your meet? I was like, I got first.”
Makenna debuted in the Viking Invite with perennial state contender Valparaiso and won the all-around. In her second meet, which included state champion Chesterton, she had four falls -- three on beam and one on floor -- yet still took second, behind Washington Township’s Ashley Kennedy, also an Indiana Elite gymnast.
“My first meet, I was scared,” Makenna said. “I was like, well, there’s other good gymnasts, how am I going to place? My best event is floor (exercise). Probably my favorite is bars. I like vault. I’m slowly beginning to like beam.”
Indiana Elite’s Stacy Lanterman is Makenna’s official coach and Corey is the assistant, primarily providing moral support while Lanterman handles the technical aspects.
“I really just want to be the mom,” Corey said. “She’s loving it. She’s having a good time.”
On the side, Makenna also trains with Andrew Wallen of Integrated Movement in Valpo. Wallen posts the successes of athletes he trains on a wall there and Makenna aims to make it to state and medal in order to earn her spot.
“I’m on the right track,” she said.
The hectic schedule, which also includes hitting lessons at Triple Crown in Valpo, has yet to take its toll on Makenna, an A-B student. Behind the makeup and glitter of meet day is an avid 4H’er who embraces the blue-collar work ethic of her four-generation Hanna family.
“She goes to school, comes home and eats on the way here,” Corey said. “At the end of the week, she’s kind of tired. Sunday, she catches up on her rest. Every once in a while (the fatigue) comes out, but it’s very short-lived. We’ve told her, if she decided she doesn’t like it, at the end of the season, don’t do it next year. If you’re going to do it, you have to put in all the hard work that goes with it, and she’s worked hard to get where she is.”