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Finding her rhythm

Beaverton teen balances schoolwork and side passions


by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Liani Li practices rhythmic gymnastics competitively. The sport combines elements of ballet and floor gymnastics.Lianni Li of Beaverton has a packed schedule.

The seventh-grader stays busy with a hefty course load in the Summa program at Whitford Middle School in the Progress neighborhood, where a typical week might involve reading “The Tao of Pooh” for social studies, conversing about travel plans in Spanish, learning the differences between covalent and ionic bonds and, of course, graphic polynomials.

And somehow, the 13-year-old also finds time to place first in her level for regional rhythmic gymnastics.

Li has been training since she was 5 years old, and now spends about 20 hours a week on the sport, coached by Dennitza Bengtsson at Westside Dance & Gymnastics Academy in Tigard, where she has practiced for the past eight years.

Earlier this month, Li travelled to Bothell High School in Washington to compete against gymnasts from 11 other western states.

Rhythmic gymnastics fuses the physically demanding aspects of floor gymnastics with the grace and preciseness of ballet, adding an apparatus, or seemingly decorative prop, which can include a hoop, rope, ribbon or ball — the ball, Li says, can be an extra challenge because it requires slower movement and down-tempo accompanying music.

Gymnasts are judged on criteria that includes use of apparatus and general execution.

Li says her routines typically last 30 seconds at a competition — and the fear of dropping “an element,” or apparatus, never completely fades.

Still, she’s managed to excel in competitions and was named Oregon State Champion for her level in 2009.

Li doubts she sees herself pursuing the sport beyond high school. In fact, she plans to slow down on training over the next year.

“I have to focus on school,” she says, adding that balancing gymnastics and schoolwork is “a struggle.”

“With the time involved, it’s pretty much like a part-time job,” adds her mother Zhao.

And anyway, the burgeoning pianist and successful gymnast has other aspirations — like professional modeling, which she hopes to pursue in the next few years.

Zhao has no argument there.

“I spent all that money, and (now) her legs look perfect!” she laughs.

Zhao is confident that whatever her daughter pursues, the time spent training in rhythmic gymnastics will not have been wasted. She has long felt the sport would open doors for Li. Not only has it strengthened Li’s work ethic — “She works really hard at the gym, sometimes for four and a half hours,” Zhao says — but it has made her more confident. Through training, Li has overcome the fear of competing in front of an audience and judges.

“Overall, it’s good training for her,” Zhao adds. “I see her (gaining) a lot from this sport.”

In the meantime, Li is preparing to compete at the 2013 U.S. Rhythmic Championship in Florida this June.



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