Davenport representing Helena on the balance beam

By MICHELLE LOVE | Staff Writer

HELENA –  Rourke Davenport’s life is all about gymnastics. At 9 years old, she has already qualified for the Talent Opportunity Program (TOPs), which is one of the boxes checked by all U.S. Olympians.

“It’s a track all Olympians go on,” said her mother, Robia. “This is usually the start of the scouting for Olympians for the USA team. Typically, you’re old in gymnastics at 16, so by 14 you should be a level 10, which is the highest level.”

A Helena native, Rourke has been doing gymnastics since she was 18 months old. It quickly became apparent to Robia that her daughter had found something special.

“She was just a very energetic toddler, and I needed her to have an outlet to get her energy out,” Robia laughed. “She did dance along with gymnastics when she was younger, but she leaned more towards gymnastics because there’s a lot more opportunity.”

Rourke has been attending Legacy Gymnastics in Pelham since the beginning, and she said she practices five hours a day.

“I like how you get to flip around and do cool stuff,” Rourke said. “I love doing the toe heel stand on bars.”

TOPs testing is done by each state, and organized based on age groups. The top 100 are taken from each age group, and then from there they go on to Nationals, where scouting for prospective Olympian candidates gets serious. On Oct. 1, Rourke will participate in the National TOPs test amongst others her age, and Robia said preparation for that day is the main focus. “They have to learn all new routines in a month to prepare for that,” Robia said, “So that’s where our main focus is now, to make sure she’s ready.”

Goal setting is a huge part of Rourke’s daily routine, inside and outside of the gym. “We always do goal setting, and she does goal setting at the gym as far as what skills she wants to work towards next,” Robia said.

Her ultimate goal? “She says she wants to go to the Olympics, and I’m not going to stand in her way,” Robia said.

Rourke said she gets nervous sometimes before performing, but works through it. “I take deep breaths and tell myself I can do it,” she said. “It’s a mixture of excitement and nervousness.”

As a mother, Robia said she also has mixed emotions. “Of course, I’m proud of her. She’s doing way more than I ever did as a child,” she said. “Then there’s also, I’ll be watching her and the bars are right by where the glass is for the viewing area, and I’ll just see her feet come swinging over and it’s like she’s upside down on this bar. It makes my heart race. I’m very proud, but it is nerve-racking.”

Rourke said she’s made a lot of friends doing gymnastics, and it makes her feel good to have friends who understand what goes into gymnastics training. Rourke is homeschooled so she can do her training during the day, but she said she has plenty of social interaction with her friends at Legacy and in the Helena community.

“We love living in Helena,” Robia said. “I feel like the people are amazing. Everyone looks after everyone. It’s just really quaint and small…there’s always things to do, and we love it.”