One year ago, national power tumbling champion Holden Steed was having trouble with the most basic of tricks, but this last week, during the Trampoline and Tumbling World Age Group Competition in Metz, France, the 17-year-old had no trouble at all throwing a routine that included handsprings, tucks, and whips -- and sticking that routine to place fourth overall in the elite international field.
In January of this year, Steed was at practice and got lost in the rotation of a new skill he was learning.
"I landed with my head curled under and fell down on my neck," said Steed, a student at Fremont High School. "It really freaked me out and I had a hard time with it. I slowly started getting scared of other skills. I had to relearn back handsprings, and I lost all my basic skills and had to relearn them. That was an interesting experience."
Steed took some time off but knew he wanted to come back to try and make it to the World Championships. He found that the time off and the relearning process helped him hone his skills.
"I've always found that if I take a little bit of time off before a meet, or if I go on vacation and leave the gym that I come back stronger. I had to relearn all the basics, and I slowed everything down and had to focus on my form and how to do a skill well, so my form has improved and my aesthetic scores have improved," said Steed.
He placed at two national competitions to earn his berth on the World Age Group team. In June, he won the Fairland Classic in Maryland, and was second at the U.S. Elite Challenge in Virginia. Steed, who is coached by Kathy Valdez and Janelle Vettori of Northern Star Bounders in West Haven, has wanted to go to Worlds since he won Nationals as a Level 10 gymnast in 2007.
He said it took a lot of prayer and hard work to earn one of the four spots on the team and then to make it to the finals at Worlds.
"I was more nervous than usual," said Steed, "just because there were so many more kids and so much deeper competition. Usually at Nationals I can plan on a medal, but at Worlds I was just praying to get into finals."
Steed trained Sunday-Wednesday in France and then competed Thursday, with preliminaries in the morning and finals in the afternoon. Twenty-two athletes from around the world competed in Steed's junior elite category, throwing two passes in the prelims, which narrowed the category to eight finalists. With the finals as new-life finals (with preliminary scores being ignored), Steed threw his routine, a round off, double tuck, whip, flick, double tuck, whip flick, full-in, pike out to score 32.7 and place fourth behind two Kazakhstan tumblers and a Russian.
"I hit it and saluted and I started freaking out when I got off the mat. Basically it was joy, just a feeling of joy and I felt really accomplished because I'd gone through some tough times, and I had come back to where I was and ended up with fourth in the world so I was just happy," said Steed.
Even when he wasn't sure if he could throw another back handspring, he knew he wanted to come back, and said he hopes to continue going to Worlds, which is the highest level of competition in power tumbling.
"I love this sport, and I knew that I could get it back," said Steed. "It was a lot of hard work -- more mental work than physical, and I'm still battling it a little bit. It's taken me awhile to get over it. Learning new things I still throw up blocks that scare me a little, but I've just got to deal with. If I quit and didn't go on with it, I'd always wonder what I could have if I kept trying. Worlds had always been one of my dreams and I didn't want to throw it away, so I kept working for it."