WESTBROOK — An over-rotation at the end of a tumbling run left Jasmine Cawley flat on her back inside the Maine Academy of Gymnastics, and she started to cry.

She sniffled and slowly got to her feet, then stood defiantly, hands on hips, during a quiet conversation with her coach, Jamian Walker.

Cawley wiped away a tear or two, walked off the floor exercise mat and regained her composure.

She’s only 10, but “Jazzy” is one tough cookie. She’s also the most promising young gymnast from Maine in a generation.

More than 600 girls in Maine compete in gymnastics, at skill levels ranging from 1 to 10, but only half a dozen competed above Level 8 at the state championships in March. Jazzy is the youngest of that advanced group.

On Friday morning, she will be Maine’s lone representative at the Level 9 Eastern Championships in Rochester, New York.

“It is quite remarkable to be that age and that level,” said Carol Brewer of Skowhegan, the state chair of USA Gymnastics. “She’s very good.”

Maine has only one Level 10 gymnast, Kennebunk High senior McKenzie McLeod, who is recovering from shoulder surgery and is planning to compete at Springfield College in Massachusetts.

Cawley was the only Level 9 gymnast among the six who competed at the state meet in March to qualify for the Eastern Championships, which feature 16 age divisions and include the top gymnasts from 26 states.

“It’s crazy,” said Emily Patashnik, a 16-year-old junior at Scarborough High who just completed her ninth year at the Maine Academy of Gymnastics, her second at Level 9. “Jazzy is a work of art, basically. When I was her age, I was just laughing and messing around, but she has this maturity that you don’t tend to see with 10-year-olds.”

‘LIKE THE ANGELS STARTED SINGING’

A fifth-grader at George E. Jack Elementary School in Standish, Jazzy was the first Mainer accepted into the USA Gymnastics Talent Opportunity Program. The program began in 1992 and seeks to develop the nation’s most promising gymnasts (ages 8-10) through a four- to five-day training camp each December. Jazzy qualified when she was 8, 9 and 10, attending the national training center in Texas with Walker.

“I do remember Jasmine and her coach, because we rarely get a gymnast from Maine,” said Kim Riley, managing director of athlete development at USA Gymnastics. “For her to make it three years in a row is very unusual.”

Jay Cawley and Marne Ames never envisioned that their daughter would become a gymnast capable of doing double backflips off the uneven parallel bars and a back handspring, back layout step-out (think handspring without hands) on the 4-inch wide balance beam. What they sought was simply an outlet for an energetic 4-year-old fond of dangling from the kitchen table and bouncing off furniture.

They brought her to Maine Academy of Gymnastics, in an industrial area of Westbrook, and gazed in wonder at all the thick mats and foam pits.

“It was like the angels started singing,” Ames said.

“She didn’t know that I was going to be good at it,” Jazzy said. “She just wanted me to be safe.”

ASCENDED IN LEVELS QUICKLY

Walker spotted Jazzy in the preschool group and noticed not only her strength and energy, but her focus. She listened to instructions for pointed toes or straightened limbs and made appropriate corrections. Her handstands stayed vertical.

Jazzy moved into an older pre-team group but still had to wait until 6 before she could compete. She began at Level 3 and moved up two levels two years in a row, reaching Level 7 when she was 8. At the same age, future Olympians Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman and Laurie Hernandez all competed at Level 4.

Now 4-foot-2 and 69 pounds, Jazzy reached Level 9 this season, which runs from December to May, although training never stops except for a week in early July and another after Labor Day. Otherwise, she works out four hours per day, five days per week. Easterns mark her 11th and final meet of the season.

“As parents, we wouldn’t be putting our 6- to 10-year-old through 20 hours of training a week if she didn’t absolutely love it,” Jay Cawley said. “She never once complains about practice. She can’t wait to get there.”

Family vacations aren’t exactly bliss for Jazzy, who says, “In that week, I go crazy. My parents are like, ‘You need to get back in the gym!’ ”

‘DEFINITELY WAY MORE ADVANCED’

Historically, Maine has produced few national-caliber gymnasts. Among the best are Kristen Kenoyer Woodland from North Whitefield and Jennifer Mercier of China, both of whom helped the University of Utah – a powerhouse in the sport – win NCAA championships in the 1990s.

Kenoyer Woodland, now married with five children and living in Texas, will be inducted into the Maine Sports Hall of Fame in June. She said she didn’t start gymnastics until she was 8 and wound up competing at the 1988 U.S. Olympic Trials at age 16.

“She’s definitely way more advanced than I was at her age,” Kenoyer Woodland said of Jazzy.

Kenoyer Woodland noted that Level 9 gymnasts of Cawley’s age are not uncommon in Texas or California, two hotbeds of gymnastics. Still, she estimated fewer than 5,000 girls nationwide advance beyond Level 8.

“So even to get to that level,” she said, “is an impressive achievement.”

Whether Jazzy continues her ascent remains to be seen. As with nearly every girl who ever pulled on a leotard, her dream is to compete in the Olympics. For now, however, she’s happy to bounce and twirl and twist and flip.

Her goal this season was to qualify for the Eastern Championships, and she made it.

“Jazzy just does it for fun,” said Anna Baker, 18, a Maine Academy of Gymnastics teammate soon to graduate from Yarmouth High. “You can see that every time she’s at the gym. She wants to win, but she’s not here so she can get a title at the end of the year. She’s here so she can be with her teammates and have fun flipping. It’s for enjoyment, and I think that really shows through in her gymnastics and her training and her performances.”

Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or

[email protected]

Twitter: GlennJordanPPH

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