Jumping for Joy
Cherie Kines earns induction to the Hall of Fame following a fabulous career that included a state gymnastics title in 1978
Some individuals find an area in which to excel early in life. For others, the process takes a little time. Others, still, never find one.
As for Cherie Pallitto, she belongs in the first group. She found her athletic calling as a young girl in the flipping, tumbling, high-flying world of gymnastics.
'I kind of have this theory that every athlete comes with a physical talent, but they also come with mental talent for doing a sport,' Pallitto explains.
And Pallitto did possess both kinds of talent. Her natural aptitude and willingness to dedicate herself to her sport eventually led to a high school state title during her junior year at Forest Grove High School, in addition to a number of other accomplishments.
For her achievements, Pallitto has been selected as a member of the second class of the FGHS Athletic Hall of Fame. She will be officially inducted, along with her classmates, in a ceremony scheduled for Sept. 17.
'Being from a small town, all of those people were part of the athletic history of Forest Grove,' Pallitto explained of the rest of this year's class. 'So I am very humbled to be even considered.'
Pallitto, 49, who grew up in Forest Grove as Cherie Hines and graduated from high school in 1980, started doing dance and ballet at the age of 6 or 7. Around that same time, she joined an acrobatics group created by her mother, Marie, and a family friend.
Those experiences started her down a path toward rigorous gymnastics training. After a period of time with the acrobatics group, it became evident that Pallitto and a couple of the other girls were ready for some more advanced coaching.
Pallitto, who currently lives in Lacey, Wash., was about 9 years old when she joined the Tigard Twisters, a private gymnastics club. Not long after, she was selected to join the Twisters' elite-level training group. At age 11, she was the youngest gymnast in the field that qualified for junior nationals.
By the time she reached junior high, Pallitto was training for many hours every day and followed a disciplined schedule. She went to school for half-days in the morning. At around 11:30 a.m. or noon, Marie would pick up Pallitto, drive her to practice while Pallitto ate lunch, then drop her off at the gym. Training usually concluded somewhere between 5 and 6 p.m.
'Gymnastics ... basically that was what I did, Pallitto said. 'Kind of lived and breathed it.'
After practice, other gymnasts' families would drop Pallitto off at Washington Square so she could catch a bus to the Forest Grove Ace Hardware store, where her father, Cam, worked part-time in the evenings after his shifts at Tektronix had ended.
Pallitto recognized the sacrifices that her parents made for her gymnastics career, but she said she did not feel that they pushed her; she did that herself.
'I feel my parents gave me all the opportunities and didn't really have to do much more than that,' she explained.
And so Pallitto thrived in her sport. She was tall for a gymnast - she eventually grew to about 5 feet, 7 inches - as well as flexible.
Sue Fleskes, who was Pallitto's gymnastics coach in high school and nominated her for the Hall of Fame, said Pallitto had lovely extension and that she was a beautiful dancer on the balance beam and the uneven bars.
By the time she was 14, Pallitto had advanced to multiple regional meets. She says her best placements at junior nationals were two eighth-place finishes, one in beam and one in bars.
'Probably for me, finishing eighth in a national competition meant more than finishing first in a state competition,' Pallitto acknowledged. 'I wanted to always compete against the very best and do my very best. And the level of competition in those meets was huge.'
Despite her zest for elite-level competition, shortly later, Pallitto made the decision to distance herself from the club scene. She recalled being 14 and just having returned from a competitive trip to Hawaii around Christmas. She had not seen her family much lately and told her club coach that she was going to miss practice. After the coach 'exploded' on her, Pallitto chose to step away from her rigorous training and competing schedule, recognizing the burden and pressure it placed on her family, which also included two sisters.
'I totally am so glad that I made that decision, and I've never regretted that,' Pallitto said. 'It was a good thing to do at the time.'
Leaving her gymnastics club allowed Pallitto to compete for the Vikings, something club coaches at that time, who tended to view high school as an inferior level of competition, often did not allow their athletes to do.
And the move also introduced her to Fleskes, with whom she remains close friends to this day - so close, in fact, that Fleskes is the godmother of Pallitto's two daughters.
'She is just the epitome - she is just the model coach of helping you bring out your very best, but in a very supportive, positive way' Pallitto said of Fleskes, who is currently the head cross country coach at Forest Grove and an assistant track and field coach.
In the fall of her sophomore year, Pallitto joined a Forest Grove gymnastics team still in its relative infancy and provided an immediate boost, winning the league all-around title.
While she helped the Vikings, Fleskes, Pallitto said, helped her shift her focus from herself, as had been the focus in club gymnastics, to the team.
'My whole focus about competing and my life, she just helped in so many different ways,' Pallitto said.
In her junior year, Pallitto won all five events at the district meet and helped the Vikings qualify for state as a team. And then at state, she hit a dream of an uneven bars routine. And won.
'I remember every aspect of it, but I remember while I was doing the routine going, 'Why am I not tired?'' Pallitto recalled. 'There's not effort. It was kind of like a weird experience, but it was just amazing.'
Fleskes also knew she was watching something special unfold.
'It was kind of one of those moments ... that you just knew when she came off the bars that she had won it,' Fleskes said.
Also at that meet, Pallitto placed third on the balance beam and sixth on the floor exercise. She took second in the all-around, missing another state title by just five-hundredths of a point.
That meet turned out to be her crowning achievement in high school competition, as an injury derailed much of her senior season.
As successful as she was, Pallitto said that it was being able to be on a team and grow socially that proved most meaningful, in the end.
Shortly after high school, Pallitto married her first husband, Greg Heidloff, and they both attended Oregon State University for a couple of years. She helped coached gymnastics at Crescent Valley High School in Corvallis and even contemplated walking onto the Beavers' collegiate squad but ultimately did not when her husband was accepted into the University of Portland ROTC program.
Eventually, the couple had two daughters, Jesika, 25, and Jena, who is deceased.
Like their mother, the Heidloff girls became standout athletes, but in swimming rather than gymnastics.
So Pallitto, who eventually settled in Washington and married Joe Pallitto about 10 years ago, became a swim mom for her nationally ranked daughters. She also earned her teaching certificate and now works as a third grade teacher at Meadows Elementary School in Lacey. Joe Pallitto also works in education in the same school district.
'I'm just so grateful to be doing what I do because it was a long time in coming,' Pallitto said of her teaching career.
These days, Pallitto said, her sport of choice is golf, which she took up a few years ago and plays with her husband. She said she also loves to travel, especially to Canada.
Of course, Pallitto now has a trip to make - a few hours south rather than north - next month for her induction into the Hall of Fame. Pallitto will be the first gymnast so honored, which is probably fitting, as Fleskes said she was 'unequivocally' the best to compete in the Vikings program.
'She's a special one,' Fleskes said. 'That's for sure.'