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Gymnast has Olympic-sized dreams

At age 2, Ashton Locklear knew she wanted to be a gymnast.

She’d watched from the sidelines as her older sister, Angelia, trained and had been caught trying to imitate the moves more than a few times.

“Eventually, my mom said, ‘Why don’t we go ahead and put (me) in gymnastics too,” said Locklear, now 16.

This past Saturday, Locklear – who trains at Everest Gymnastics in Huntersville – won the gold medal for her performance on the uneven bars in the 2014 Senior Pan American Championships at the Hershey Centre in Toronto.

Locklear, who competed in the event as part of Team USA, scored a 14.95 to take the gold and qualified for the 2015 Pan American Games in the process.

“Competing in Canada was really fun,” Locklear said. “It was a really good experience being able to go with Team USA. It was my first international competition.

“Before the finals, I just told myself to stay calm and do what I’ve been doing, because I’ve been pretty consistent in practice.”

Making Locklear’s performance even more impressive is that she’s still only about a year removed from suffering a stress fracture in her back. The fracture put Locklear in a hard-shell brace for eight weeks and then in a soft brace for another two months, limiting her to cardio work.

“It was hard to keep up the conditioning,” Locklear said. “I missed training a lot. From to time now, I’ll still get a little sore.”

The injury has forced Locklear to focus her energy on the uneven bars and balance beam.

“(Locklear) has a lot of potential,” said her coach Qi Han, who graduated from the Bejing Sports University and was a member of the Chinese National Team.

“She had a beautiful floor routine and was strong in that event, but she can’t do that any more since the back injury,” Han said. “Right now, we’re focused on her two special events. She’s doing very well. It’s fun to watch her.”

Han, along with his wife Yiwen Chen, opened Everest Gymnastics 10 years ago. They have coached Locklear since she was 11.

Han calls Locklear the best he’s ever taught on the uneven bars.

“She’s good at all the events,” he said.” But she’s special on the uneven bars.”

Locklear trains at Everest 30 hours a week, waking up early each day to tackle homework before heading to the gym for fiver hours.

Sundays are Locklear’s only off day and are generally reserved for fun.

Locklear will head to Huntsville, Texas, on Sept. 15 for the World Championship Selection Camp at the National Team Training Center with the goal of being selected to compete in October’s World Championships.

Eventually, Locklear – whose favorite athlete is Olympic gymnast Nastia Liukin – hopes to make it to the Olympics herself.

“I’ve met Liukin a couple times now,” Locklear said. “It was cool seeing what I want to be one day and watching her.

“I remember thinking, ‘I’ll be doing the same thing soon,’” Locklear said.