KENTS HILL — They miss out on sports, school activities and nights at friends’ houses. They deal with injuries, be it sprained wrists, pulled hamstrings or sore knees. And they’re constantly on the road, throughout New England. And the East Coast. And beyond.

It’s worth it, they say, if you love what you do. And for the Level 7 gymnasts at the Waterville YMCA, that’s never been an issue.

“If it’s what you love, you don’t get sick of it,” said Fairfield’s Madison Chamberlain, 12. “If it’s what you love to do, that’s what you should do.”

It’s a philosophy shared by the five Level 7 gymnasts under the watch of coach Delani Sher, whose team competed Friday night in the YMCA Gymnastics Northeast Regional Championships at Kents Hill, taking second place. They’re made up of 9-year-old Mylee Grant from Unity, 11-year-old Erin Fontaine from Manchester, 13-year-olds Grace Stewart from Pittsfield and Avery Estella from Bowdoinham, and Chamberlain.

The championships were the final meet of a busy, grueling season. One that consisted of out-of-state trips to Virginia Beach, Virginia; Springfield, Massachusetts, and New York City, saw the gymnasts practicing four hours a day and four days a week, and had them training all but two weeks of the year.

“My kids come from all over central Maine, and they train all year, and they train really hard,” said Sher, who owns Maine-ly Gymnastics and has been coaching for 14 years. “This group always matches our goals. We as a coaching staff say ‘This is what we’re doing,’ and they as a team go ‘OK. This is what we’re going to do.’ And it always exceeds our expectations.”

Sher said the gymnasts all have their own skill sets, and they all have taken on specific roles with the team.

“Erin and Avery are my leaders, Grace is the one that keeps everybody in check,” she said. “Madison is the fun, dancing one, and Mylee’s the one that kind of motivates everybody, to make sure they’re keeping their level high.”

The mix has worked, and the five have seen their performances climb to levels matching their dedication.

“My dream ever since I’ve been a little kid has been to go to the Olympics, and before that was just to go to Level 7 because that’s when I got to make up my whole routine,” Estella said. “I’ve been pushing forward and forward until I got that goal. I want to keep going forward because I want to get better. That’s the whole reason I did gymnastics. I want to get better.”

It hasn’t been easy. The commitment to gymnastics often rules out participating in other events, sports or otherwise.

“You live it,” Chamberlain said. “You want to have sleepovers with your friends and you want to go to the movies, but it’s like ‘I can’t, because I have practice.’ ”

There is also the physical nature of the sport, and injuries under such a pounding schedule can become inevitable. Estella once broke both of her wrists doing a back bend, and Chamberlain has trained while dealing with Osgood-Schlatter disease, an ailment most common in growing children.

Sometimes, the strain and stress can add up. But it doesn’t take long for that familiar desire to train and compete to return.

“I did think about (quitting) once, and I took about two weeks off,” said Stewart, who drives an hour from Pittsfield to the gym in Augusta to train. “And then I came right back. It didn’t really work out.

“It’s a pretty serious part of my life. A whole six years of my life have gone by in a zip, just because of gymnastics.”

Unfortunately, there isn’t much room for leniency on the path to improving in gymnastics. Sher has taken her team out of state because she knows the best way to improve is to face the better competition, and there’s only so much that can be found in Maine.

The travel will continue at the end of this month, when the team heads to Arizona for a week-long camp to get a head start on the season coming up.

“It’s going to give us an opportunity to compete with some of the people who are competing and doing it and give us the right tools to bring back,” Sher said. “It gets them out of here and with other kids that are doing the same thing they’re doing, and working just as hard, which I don’t think we always get a chance to do and see.

“For us to get better outside of Maine, we’ve got to go outside of Maine to get better.”

For now, the goal is Level 8 on the way to 10, which is attainable by learning more skills in each event. And Sher’s gymnasts are eager to get there.

“Gymnastics is always the sport I want to do,” Chamberlain said. “So you have to give up certain things, but I know in the end it’s going to be all worth it.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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