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Gymnast flips ‘klutz’ label on its head

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LEHI — It's happened so many times it's become a running gag at All American Gymnastics in Lindon: Aimee Waller swings across the uneven bars, flips, slips and goes skidding across the floor on her rear end.

"I tell her we need to stick cleaner on her bum so she can make some use out of all that sliding around on the mats," jokes her coach, Dawn Johnson, girls team director at the gym.

Waller always gets back up, though. And that, Johnson said, is what makes the 15-year-old tumbler, who just took home a state title in club gymnastics, so successful. Because of her tenacity, Waller is now considered one of the top six pre-college level gymnasts in Utah.

"Aimee is tireless," Johnson said. "She runs circles around the other girls because she never stops trying. She'll practice a move again and again — not because she's told to but because she wants it so badly."

For Waller, the sport has never been about showing off or winning trophies. She does gymnastics to challenge herself.

"It has always been hard for me," she said. "I'm a klutz."

Over the past nine years of training, the gymnast has broken her ankle four times, torn a ligament, hurt a rotator cuff and strained her back. (One of those broken ankles had nothing to do with a mucked-up handspring or a flip gone wrong — she tripped on the way to the drinking fountain.)

Once the gymnast gets down to business, though, flipping, twisting and otherwise contorting her body, no one would dare call her clumsy. She executes her moves with clean precision. She got to that point through "sheer determination," said Waller, who candidly denies having any natural talent for the sport.

No one really knows what inspired the Lehi teen to start doing gymnastics, least of all Waller herself. When asked the question during a recent interview, she shrugged and shook her head.

"I don't know — it's fun?" she said, tentatively.

By her mother's account, at six years old Waller told her parents she wanted to quit dance and start gymnastics. It came out of the blue, she said.

"You don't even know what gymnastics is," Julie Waller told her daughter.

"Yes I do," said little Aimee Waller. "It's somersaults and cartwheels."

Since then, Aimee Waller has only missed one month of training. Two weeks of that, her mother said, and she was begging to go back to the gym.

Now the teen spends fifteen hours a week practicing floor, vault, bars and balance beam. She takes the majority of her high school course work online in order to make time for training.

It shows. Before she even warms up, Waller can bend herself in half and slips easily into the middle splits.

"Gymnastics is my life," Waller said, though she still manages to make time to keep a 3.9 grade point average and teach herself how to sew.

Waller isn't one to toot her own horn, though. For years, she wouldn't even allow her family to watch her gymnastics meets.

"Now I can send her a text before the meet to tell her to focus," said her father, Rod Waller. "After that I'm not allowed to talk. She gets in a zone when she performs."

E-mail: estuart@desnews.com