Stumpus’ success raises bar for Aspen Gymnastics Team |

Stumpus’ success raises bar for Aspen Gymnastics Team

Steve Benson
Getting ready for nationals, Haley Stumpus practices on the uneven parallel bars at the Red BrickScholl gymnastics center Tuesday evening April 20, 2004. Aspen Times photo/Paul Conrad.

Nerves don’t affect Haley Stumpus. She won’t let them.

Instead, the Aspen Gymnastics Team member is thinking only one thing before she competes.

“Hit it,” Stumpus said. “I’ve just got to hit every single thing.”

That’s what will be going through Stumpus’ head this weekend during the USA Gymnastics Level 9 National Championships in Seattle.

She earned the trip earlier this month after placing ninth out of a field of 28 competitors in the regional championships in Kansas City.

And for Stumpus, a 17-year-old junior at Basalt High, it’s been a long road to nationals.

“All the hard work is finally paying off,” she said.

About 200 kids from the valley, ranging from 2 to 18 years old, participate in the Aspen Gymnastics program, which is run by former gymnast John Bakken and a number of assistant coaches.

Stumpus is one of a select few who devotes five days a week, three hours a day to her craft, and she’s the only girl from the team headed to nationals (only girls at level 9 can qualify for nationals, and the younger team members have yet to reach that level).

“If you want to be good, that’s what you have to do,” she said.

On any given evening at the Red Brick Gym, you can watch Stumpus and a close group of committed, young gymnasts spinning on the bars, leaping along the balance beam and flipping on the floor.

To get where they are – national contenders – has taken years of devotion. But for Stumpus, as demanding as her sport is, she couldn’t imagine life without it.

“I just love it,” she said. “People say, ‘Don’t you get tired of it?’ No, I don’t.”

And that’s the kind of program Bakken leads.

“The girls are pretty well rounded,” he said. “We’re not just a factory, and that’s something we’re proud of.”

For at least three hours every week night, Bakken leads the girls through a series of exercises in all four disciplines – bars, floor, beam and vault – offering tips and encouragement simultaneously.

And the bond between the coach and his girls is clearly strong.

Yury Nakagawa, a senior at Aspen High, placed 10th on the beam in the regional meet, but did not qualify for nationals. Her days of competing are over, but she still practices with her teammates every night.

“My teammates and I are so close, it’s like a family,” she said. “This place has been a part of my life for 10 years – I spend more time here than I do my house.”

For the younger girls, like 11-year-old Carryn Barker, 12-year-old Rachel True and 14-year-old Megan Raczak, the sky’s the limit.

All three had solid performances in both the state and regional tournaments, and as Bakken said, “these are the girls that may eventually go elite.”

“I definitely want to progress,” Raczak, who placed third out of 51 girls in the regional tournament last weekend, said between breaths after her floor routine. “I might try to do it in college.”

Bakken said Raczak, an Aspen High freshman, has the chance to move up to level nine in the coming year.

True, who won states in her division, is also thinking about the future.

“I want to get a full scholarship to college,” she said.

Bakken started the Aspen Gymnastics program 10 years ago after the Aspen Recreation Department purchased space in the Red Brick Gym. The program is officially known as the Silver City Gymnastics Club, which Bakken said is basically the booster club that finances the team.

In 10 years, Bakken has developed a nationally renowned program that has produced elite gymnasts like Aspen High grad Melissa Kutcher, who received a full scholarship to Denver University four years ago. During the winter, Bakken also trains members of the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club.

Between reps on the bars, Stumpus said she would never be at the level she’s at without Bakken and the Aspen Gymnastics Team. She’s been doing gymnastics for most of her life, but didn’t join the team until two years ago.

“John’s a really good coach,” she said. “My skill level’s higher than it’s ever been – I’m definitely progressing.”

As Bakken said, “She’s made incredible leaps and bounds.”

Steve Benson’s e-mail address is


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