Flying high, dreaming big


More than 350 girls from across the state and Massachusetts and many of their families converged at the Big Dream Academy in Cranston on Saturday for the Mardi Gras Gymnastics, involving gymnasts from 11 gyms in a show of balance, moves that would leave most of us with aches and pains and intense concentration.

There was also a lot of spirit with the girls cheering on their teammates and trainers passing out the high fives no matter the performance. And, to be expected, there were plenty of colorful beads, masks and balloons.

There’s more competition to come with a big name in the world of gymnasts – Laurie Hernandez. Laurie won the hearts of many as a member of the U.S. women's gymnastics team at the 2016 Summer Olympics. She won gold in the team event and silver on the balance beam. She will be visiting the Big Dream Academy on May 19 to help raise funds for Youth Protection Advocates in Gymnastics. To support the cause, the academy is holding weekly fundraisers with those gymnasts raising the most winning the opportunity for a clinic with Laurie, photographs with the Olympics medallist and an artist’s rendering of Laurie.

Other events including a private clinic and lunch with Laurie are also being planned, says Shannon Cornicelli. Shannon was a state standout gymnast as a student at Pilgrim High School in 1999 – even though the school did not have a gymnastics team. She went on to captain the Rhode Island College team. She holds the top three scores in the uneven bars, winning the 2003 ECAC uneven bar title and was ranked first in the nation. She started Big Dream in 2007, which now has two locations in Cranston and another gym in Cumberland.

Saturday’s event ran like clockwork with teams moving from station to station where judges scored the girls. Tallies were collected and complied with the scores from the top three gymnasts comprising the team score.

As so many competed and abilities varied, the event was broken into eight sessions with contestants and their families lining up outside the academy on Comstock Parkway as ribbons and medals were being draped around the necks of winners inside. It made for a party-like occasion with lots of beads and girls donning their masks now that the stress of the competition was over.

(Warwick Beacon photos and story by John Howell)


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