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Four Auburn Gymnasts Ascend to Victory

Ariel, Pike, Tuck, Full Twist—these words may look foreign to most people. But to four young, incredibly accomplished gymnasts in Auburn, WA, those words are part of their daily vocabulary (and they can probably do most of those flips in their sleep).

Mackenzie Estep (14), Jocelyn Sasson (13), Hailey Avellar (12), and Isabelle Futch (14) are the only athletes in Washington state to qualify for two prestigious national competitions: HOPEs Elite Division, and The Nastia Lukin Cup. Their gym – Ascend Gymnastics in North Auburn – has seen its fair share of blood, sweat, and tears.

“They perform all these crazy flips on the 4″ beam or the bar that is 1.6″ in diameter and 8′ tall. They aren’t fearless; they just manage and conquer their fears better than most,” Ascend Coach Sarah Korngold said, “You never learn everything. There is always a new skill, another twist, another flip, another connection. Anything they can dream up, they can work to learn.”

Isabelle Futch, Jocelyn Sasson, and Hailey Avellar on balance beams at Ascend Gymnastics | photo by Ascend Gymnastics

HOPEs Elite Division

Sasson, Futch, and Avellar qualified to compete in HOPEs Elite Division Competition, held in Indianapolis, Indiana, on April 23 . “It’s a pretty big honor,” said Coach Korngold, “Hailey, Jocie, and Isabelle are the only athletes from Washington qualified at this level. We’re very proud of them.” Additionally, Korngold explained that the girls hoped to qualify in Indiana for the National Championships in Daytona, Florida which takes place in May.

Jocelyn Sasson has been in gymnastics for ten years and has been competing for eight of them. “I feel pretty good [about competing in the HOPEs competition] overall, especially since it’s been one of my goals, and I made it on my third year trying,” Sasson said.

Hailey Avellar has been in gymnastics for nine years and enjoys experiencing the different skills and the motion of the flips. “My favorite part of being a gymnast is the flipping!” She explained that the “twisting and the swinging bars” are exciting. At the competition this past weekend, Avellar qualified for the Championships in May at the G.K. Classic

Isabelle Futch has been in gymnastics for ten years. Although she enjoys performing on the uneven bars, the most challenging skill she has been working on mastering thus far is a Maloney swing to Tkatchev (I encourage anybody unfamiliar with this skill to look it up and then promptly pick your jaw up off the ground.)

Being Athletic Runs in the Family

The Nastia Lukin Cup is a highly esteemed annual competition held in the United States and is hosted by five-time Olympic medalist Nastia Lukin. This year the competition was held in Indianapolis, Indiana, and featured 36 talented gymnasts worldwide– one of which is Auburn’s very own Mackenzie Estep.

Mackenzie has been a gymnast for 12 years. “I love getting to know my teammates; they really feel like family,” the 14-year-old athlete explained, “gymnastics teaches me a lot of determination, hard work, and courage; really good life skills.”

The Nastia Lukin Cup, which was televised on NBCsn, “was a really nice opportunity and great experience to be out there on a bigger stage,” Estep said. She finished sixth place overall in the entire competition. The finish was a close call—Estep was only .5 points away from first place.

“God always has a plan,” she said.

Mackenzie isn’t the only nationally ranked athlete in her family. Her 16-year-old sister, Katie, is an elite-level weightlifter. Not only has she qualified to compete in the Pan America Championships this July in Puerto Rico, but she also is traveling to Saudi Arabia in May to compete in Junior Worlds.

Katie Estep plans on competing in both championships. “It’s super fun,” she said, “The weightlifting community is a little bit smaller, so you almost know everyone. Everyone is super supportive.”

Katie used to be a gymnast when she was younger but decided to try weightlifting when her coach’s husband would use a portion of Ascend’s gym to lift weights. Her mom would come in often to stay active. “She wanted me to do something once I stopped gymnastics and not just sit around the house,” she said. “So, she figured I’d come in and try it out. I tried some other sports through school, but this is what I really liked and what I seem better at.” 

The most weight the 16-year-old high school student has ever lifted while doing a “clean and jerk” (two weightlifting movements performed with a barbell) is 210 pounds.

Staying Committed to Gymnastics During the Pandemic

These young athletes prove to us all that nothing can stop them from achieving their dreams—not even a global pandemic.

Isabelle Futch is captured mid-air doing the splits on the balance beam at Ascend Gymnastics
Isabelle Futch leaps on the balance beam at Ascend Gymnastics | photo by Ascend Gymnastics

The gym was closed for three months during the state-wide business closures at the beginning of 2020. “I was pretty self-disciplined to workout every day,” Sasson said, who explained the warm weather also helped. “Luckily, we were back a little faster than some of the other states in the nation, which was nice,” Mackenzie Estep said. “It just took a lot of hard work.”

According to Korngold, Ascend’s level ten team remained undefeated at the beginning of the year. The two graduating seniors are going to pursue gymnastics in college for division one teams.

“This group of girls always works incredibly hard, but this year has presented its own unique challenges,” Korngold said. “They stayed committed during repeated lockdowns and closures. The whole team did a really great job pushing themselves during Zoom workouts when we couldn’t be in the gym. The girls had specific goals for themselves and continued to push for them despite the uncertainty Covid provided.”

For anybody who has an interest in becoming a gymnast, you should “make sure you’re enjoying what you’re doing,” Sasson said. “Because it’s kind of what matters at the end of the day, and I think that’s what this gym does really well is make the hard work fun.” The other girls, along with Coach Korngold, agree with Sasson’s advice.

“I think the biggest contributor to their success is that they are working hard, but also having fun. To practice as hard as they do — you have to enjoy what you are doing.”

Jocelyn Sasson practices on the uneven bars at Ascend Gymnastics in Auburn, the photo captures here vertical on the high bar.
Jocelyn Sasson on the uneven bars at Ascend Gymnastics | photo by Ascend Gymnastics

Ascend Gymnastics has locations in Auburn, Dupont, Sumner, and Woodinville and is home to athletes from preschool-age toddlers to high school teenagers. The website states that their classes “will provide an opportunity for your child to develop confidence, poise, individuality, mental and physical discipline, determination, work ethic, and self-respect.”

 Estep’s additional routines at the Nastia Lukin Cup:

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