IOWA CITY — Dante Reive, 11, has to jump to reach the rings the older boys he’s practicing with — some in high school — can easily reach.
That doesn’t slow him down. The Van Allen Elementary fifth-grader practices his gymnastics skills around 16 hours a week, after school.
“It’s hard,” he said, but worth it because “I can do a lot more than other kids can do.”
This weekend, Dante’s hard work is paying off — he’s competing in the Future Stars National Championships in Colorado Springs. The event determines which young athletes will join the Junior National Development Team and which will go to a camp next summer at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.
“It’s kind of the first national competition experience,” Dante’s coach Tom Buese said. “It’s our country’s way of finding the Olympic level athletes at this age and the start of that path.”
The Olympic Training Center is where Dante’s father, JD Reive, was asked to move to train when he was a teen, after being on the Junior National Team himself at age 10. He went on to finish second at the 1993 Winter Cup and earned a spot on the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team. He is now the University of Iowa’s head men’s gymnastics coach.
Dante’s mother, Doni Thompson, is also a gymnast. She owns Eyas Gymnastics where Dante trains and is Iowa Men’s Gymnastics state director. She was on the University of California-Los Angeles gymnastics team when it won three national titles. The couple moved to Iowa from Stanford, Calif., where JD Reive was the assistant men’s gymnastics coach.
“Dante has basically been in the gym since he was born,” Doni Thompson said. “When we were at Stanford, parents would watch him and we would coach.”
The gym’s name, Eyas, came from the word for baby hawks, one Thompson adapted into an acronym — Encouraging Young Athletes to Soar — and is printed on each young gymnast’s shirt. Eyas rents time in the gymnastics facilities at the UI’s Field House, and children ages 3 to 18 participate. Dante is the only Eyas athlete going to the Future Stars event this year; three others from Eyas have gone in the past.
“It’s pretty wild for me to go out there as a dad,” JD Reive said. “Going there is a thing that changes kids’ careers.”
Still, he and Thompson said this quest isn’t just about a goal like making it to the Olympics someday.
“The Olympics are always the driving force behind our sport, but it’s a long path,” JD Reive said. “It’s a two-decade process.”
Instead, he sees a more lasting aim.
He said the sport builds discipline and work ethic. For Dante, getting to the point where he can hold his entire body aloft on the rings, legs straight out at a right angle to his torso, means weeks and months of practice, of slowly building up strength in the right muscles and perfecting precisely the right techniques.
“This sport, honestly, is a lot of failure, over and over and over again,” JD Reive said. “But failure is an inherent part of learning.”
Parents and coaches can push and lead only so much, he said — ultimately, it’s up to the kids to decide they’re willing to keep trying, to keep working.
“Less than following in our footsteps, it’s the lessons the sport can give,” Thompson said. “We want to create independent, strong, healthy little humans that are really resilient.”
It’s not an easy time for the American gymnastics world. On Monday, the U.S. Olympic Committee announced it planned to revoke USA Gymnastic’s status as the sport’s national governing body. The move came in response to the high-profile scandal surrounding team doctor Larry Nassar, accused of sexually assaulting hundreds of women and girls, including former national team members Simone Biles, Aly Raisman and others. Former USA Gymnastics President Steve Penny was arrested in October and charged with evidence tampering related to the Nassar investigation.
“The sport is not getting good press lately,” JD Reive said.
But he hopes that doesn’t detract from the positive aspects he sees, of athletes working hard to conquer incredible physical odds.
Being a gymnast means mastering multiple events — Dante competes in two different parallel bars events, pommel horse, rings, floor, vault, high bar, trampoline and has a flexibility routine.
Parallel bars and high bar are the hardest for him, he said.
“I’ve struggled with them more,” he said. But when he falls, “I kind of just get back up.”
That’s not always easy to make himself do. He shows off a bruised knee from a recent practice.
“Sometimes I’m scared of a skill,” he said. “I’ve smacked a lot on (parallel) bars.”
But he is determined.
“I have to do it, because I’m going to Colorado,” he said.
His goal is to hit all nine of his events, meaning sticking them without falling.
Gymnastics isn’t the only thing in his world. His favorite subject at school is science — he likes when the class gets to do experiments. He also likes to play golf. When he’s relaxing, he likes playing video games and spending time with his friends.
But giving gymnastics up for more time on those things doesn’t occur to him.
“It’s just fun,” he said. “I’m just excited.”
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