Pair of the best

Published 10:39 am Monday, April 14, 2014

When school lets out at 3:30 p.m., two girls are heading to Murkerson Gym on South West Street and aren’t leaving until it’s dark outside. After years of work, countless hours of practice and a fair share of sweat and tears, their devotion is paying off.

Emily Perkins, 15, and McKenzie Findley, 13, are two of the best gymnasts from their age group in Georgia and are heading to the United States Gymnastic Association’s regional competition.

Perkins, a level nine gymnast, competes in Kennesaw Saturday on a team of Georgia gymnasts against seven other states. Findley, level seven, will compete in two weeks in Charlotte, N.C.

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If Perkins does well in Kennesaw, she will advance to the Eastern Nationals in Tampa, Fla., a thought that puts a huge smile on her face.

“We both have worked really hard this year and we both wanted to make it to regionals and nationals,” Perkins said. “We’re really excited we made it. We’ve come this far and it shows that hard work really does pays off.”

Last month, Perkins climbed the first step of the ladder to nationals by becoming the level nine Georgia state champion. She swept the vault beam and floor events and took fourth place on bars.

Findley placed fourth in the level seven state meet among over 200 other gymnasts. Out of the top 52 girls attending regionals, she was the only one from south of Macon.

“I didn’t make regionals last year, and that state meet wasn’t a good meet for me,” Findley said. “This year, making it really boosts my confidence. It feels good because some of the girls I compete against intimidated me at the beginning of the year.”

Their coach, Lindy Murkerson, said she was proud of the hard work and payoff Perkins and Findley are seeing.

“I’m very excited this is happening for a little bitty gym like ours,” Murkerson said. “To come out of my gym, I’m ecstatic.”

Both girls have dreams of competing on college gymnastics teams. For Perkins, the Georgia Gym Dogs inspire her to be the best she can be. Findley wants to be on the Alabama Crimson Tide’s gymnastics team.

“I have always been an Alabama fan,” Findley said. “We used to live in Alabama, and their team recently won the SEC Championship and regionals championship.”

Counting on their fingers, both will say they spend between 20 to 23 hours in Murkerson gym every week, five days a week.

Perkins is working to become a level 10 gymnast, the final step before earning elite status and the opportunity to compete at an Olympic level. Findley will soon compete at level eight.

The two look back on Murkerson’s coaching as a huge factor to their success. They also say they couldn’t have gotten this far without their teammates.

“They support us a lot and are here for us when we have frustrating days,” Findley said.