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Practice makes perfect for MPH Olympic-level gymnast

At age 7, Neil Damron began his athletic path toward becoming an Olympic-level gymnast.

He was exposed to the sport at a friend’s birthday party and said he found the experience to be fun, positive and a good outlet for all his energy.

“I remember when Neil started,” said his coach Jim Luttinger, of CNY Gymnastics Center in Shoppingtown Mall. “He’s always had a love for the sport.”

The Manlius Pebble Hill senior recently competed in his last meet, the Polar Bear Invitational Gymnastics Tournament, held annually at his home gym. He took first place in the all around as well as in four out of six events (floor exercises, rings, vault and high bar). He placed second in the pommel horse and parallel bars.

Damron, who’s competed multiple times at state, regional and national levels, is a Level 10 gymnast, but says he hasn’t given the Olympics much thought.

“I have always been focused on my immediate future when it comes to gymnastics,” Damron said. “I want to be the best I can be, and where ever that takes me will make me happy.”

As he preps for college, Damron still trains at CNY and teaches beginning gymnasts in his spare time.

Luttinger said he’s a great role model to the younger kids because he’s learned to use his time wisely, balancing school, his personal life and this “very demanding, time-consuming sport.”

“Neil is a hard working, well mannered, scholar athlete,” said Luttinger, noting his student, who maintains a high honor roll status, also enjoys challenging Model UN-style debates at school.

When asked what advice he would give to rising gymnasts like himself, Damron acknowledged the sweat, blood and tears that come with being a committed athlete. For instance, Luttinger recalled Damron having a painful knee condition that kept him from tumbling and vaulting for several years.

“Neil had to tumble and vault on a limited basis until it went away, when he was about [age] 14,” Luttinger said. “His persistence and smart training kept him on par with other athletes and now he is one of the best tumblers and vaulters in the state and region.”

“Long-term goals have always gotten me through the obstacles,” Damron said.”Delayed gratification is something you have to get used to in gymnastics.”

Come fall, Damron hopes to go to one of five universities that which he has applied. Will he continue his love of gymnastics? That depends, he said, on where he goes and what he feels is right for him. In the meantime, however, his advice to rising gymnasts is the same he practices himself: Set goals and put your all into achieving them.

“I think you will always benefit [from] this approach,” he said. “Even if you don’t achieve what you were originally aiming for.”