Russell Xcel gymnast Valone grows by leaps and bounds

Jesse Valone goes to cheerleading practice after school at Eisenhower High School.

Add in homework and dinner, and that takes up most of her day.

Well, not exactly.

Valone sometimes eats dinner in the car on her way to Stroup’s Gymnastics School in Jamestown, N.Y.

“She has to leave cheerleading a few minutes early,” said Jesse’s mother, Ruth. “She goes right from school to cheer practice, and Jim (Jesse’s father) doesn’t let us eat in the vehicle, so you have to sneak something in the car.”

Jesse gets two hours of mostly one-on-one instruction from coaches Karen Stroup or Melissa McArthur, and “most of the time she works to the point of exhaustion,” said Stroup, who says Valone does eat a snack during practice and a meal after, for the record.

The point is: Valone loves gymnastics, and she juggles her schedule as much as she has to for the sport.

Valone was recently a member of a seven-person team representing New York that finished third in the Diamond Division of the 2014 Xcel Region VI Championships in Shrewsbury, Mass.

She chose that over her high school prom. Her choice.

“We generally let her choose,” said her mother, “like with the prom; she already had her dress. She was a junior and her boyfriend was a junior, but she had said if she makes it to (Shrewsbury), I’m not going to prom.”

Ruth said gymnastics loses some teenagers to the social scene, but, “she still loves it. She enjoys it, we enjoy it. We’ve never had a ride home where it’s been silent… we’re encouraging and it’s a really positive thing.”

“I wish you could have seen her face when they handed her that dark pink leotard that said ‘New York’ State Team on the back,” said Karen Stroup. “Those are very special moments that only happen once in a lifetime.”

Stroup calls Valone “The Queen of the Beam,” but Valone thinks the floor routine is her best event.

Valone can get a bit more creative in the Xcel program, which is under USA Gymnastics. It’s primary difference with compulsory gymnastics is that there are no set routines.

“The Xcel program was originally designed for the gymnast who was extremely busy and could not devote large numbers of hours to practice in the gym,” said Stroup. “It has been evolving since then and is becoming more and more popular. It is a parallel program to the traditional age group program. Each level has requirements that have to be met in the routine. So a gymnast can not do just anything that she wishes in her routines. That being said, the rules also offer more artistic creativity for individuals earlier in their gymnastic careers. That lets them showcase their strong points. Each year the rules have been adapted as the sport grows. We are expecting more rule changes this year.”

“It’s been years of driving her and making it to practice four days a week,” said Stroup, “not to mention her parents supporting her financially, nutrionally, etc.”

“She’s really organized and she doesn’t waste any time,” said her mother.

And she took to the sport right away.

“When I went to her first meet at the Y, she was like a Level 3 and somehow they put her in with the Level 4’s, and scored her against the Level 4’s,” said Ruth. “(From what I knew of gymnastics,) I didn’t even know she was in the wrong group. And afterward, when she did take a couple firsts, they had to rearrange everything because it wasn’t fair for the Level 4 people because she was a Level 3.”

Jesse started in gymnastics at a daycare program at the YMCA.

“She was so active, agile and strong, and they just had to channel that energy,” said Stroup. “She was the one that was climbing out of the crib. Some kids come in the door and you think you have a champion at three years old, but something happens where they don’t fall in love with the sport. Then there are kids like Jesse where you know she has the talent and she has steadily come along. Everybody has challenges and plateaus; when she hits those challenges or plateaus, she has found a way to work through it, and that’s the difference.”

“In addition to Melissa and I coaching Jesse, one of our former gymnasts, Chelsea Caruso, who was also a Region VI Level 8 champion from our gym comes is when she is home from college,” said Stroup. “She has helped Jesse quite a bit this year. Also, Brittany Gullotti has helped occasionally. They are just a couple of examples of former gymnasts who pay it forward by helping the next generation succeed. The combination of young and older more experienced coaches has been a winning combination for us.”

Stroup refers to Valone as “a perfectionist,” which has taught the coach to take a step back, “and be patient and wait,” said Stroup.

Judging by her schedule, she manages just fine in the long run.

“Gymnastics is the foundation for all sports. Vault, bars, beam and floor,” said Stroup.

Swimming and diving coaches sometimes seek out gymnasts and, in Jesse’s case, track coaches.

“The track coach wanted her to do pole vaulting,” said Ruth. “She did consider it, but it’s hard to fit it all in.”

Valone’s strength and balance makes her well-suited for her love of skiing and snowboarding, but there is possibly a future for the Eisenhower student in gymnastics beyond high school.

Gannon University has a competition team that combines gymnastics and cheerleading.

But, after 11 meets this season, Valone hasn’t made a decision about college other than to think about the medical field.

Just a thought:

She wouldn’t have to worry about driving from cheerleading to gymnastics.