Long road leads White back to national stage

CONTRIBUTEDBrayden White, left, pictured with brother Declan White, will compete at the USA Gymnastics Junior Olympic National Championships from May 2-4.

Presidential terms, college degrees and enough extra time for an additional day on the calendar.

Lots of things happen in four years. For Cooperstown-based gymnast Brayden White, 16, it’s the amount of time needed to overcome repeated injuries and return to the national stage of his chosen sport.

After four years and more injuries than can be counted on one taped-up hand, White is headed back to national competition after qualifying for the USA Gymnastics Junior Olympic National Championships.

“I’ve been doing this for over a decade. I’ve come a long way, progressed a lot and been through a lot of hardship, but it’s fun,” Brayden said. “You spend so long training, five days in the gym a week, and after all of the hard work pays off it’s good to see your dreams come true.”

White, a sophomore at Cooperstown, took 15th place at the USA Gymnastics Region 7 Championships on April 6 to qualify for the national competition. When he competes in Reno, Nevada, from May 2-4, it will be his first appearance on the national stage since the Future Stars National Championships in 2015.

Since then, injuries to an elbow, both shoulders, a deltoid and a hamstring have stopped White from returning. Even now, a recent knee injury has stopped him from being at his best, and his 15th-place finish does not represent the highest finish White said he could have hoped for. But after four long years, he knows that just qualifying is an accomplishment.

“When you’re younger, you kind of just test the waters as you start to get skills,” Brayden said. “As you move on, you progress, but the skills only get harder. It’s difficult as you get older but you appreciate it just as much.”

For Brian and Susan White, seeing their son struggle with injuries has been a challenge. But dealing with injury is a big part of gymnastics, perhaps even more so than in other sports. Brayden’s younger brother, 15-year-old Declan, is missing this month’s Junior Development National Championships with an elbow injury.

But the athletic stresses central to gymnastics are also the reason why the Whites put their boys into a tumbling class when the family was living in New Jersey about a decade ago. Brian and Susan have considerable experience competing in and coaching cycling and ski racing, respectively, and they were attracted to the challenges gymnastics would bring to their children.

“We understood the physical part of athletics is multifaceted — balance, agility, coordination, strength and power,” Susan said. “Some sports are more specific to some areas than others, but we just wanted a solid foundation for them. We thought gymnastics would be a great foundation for any sport they chose later in life.”

“I’m happy for (Brayden) to see some degree of fruits for his labor,” Brian said. “As a dad, if you’re working hard, it’s good for him to see some light in the tunnel and some return on his investment.”

Brayden’s athletic ability saw him quickly move from recreational tumbling classes to the gymnastics team at a YMCA in New Jersey. The brothers continued to compete after a move to Massachusetts and eventually to Cooperstown in 2009.

Since arriving in Cooperstown, pursuing the sport has typically meant traveling 90 minutes to World Class Gymnastics Academy in Latham. A decade of dedication has made the sport a big part of the Whites’ youth, increasingly so as the boys have matured, encountered hardship and taken on the agency to decide what they want to pursue.

“It’s definitely become part of my identity, for sure. Obviously it’s a difficult sport that teaches you a lot of life lessons,” Brayden said. “You learn how to come back mentally and physically after you’ve been hurt for long periods of time, and you definitely appreciate it more as you mature.”

Along the way, gymnastics has provided the Whites with even more latent benefits than Brian and Susan foresaw. Hours in the car and overcoming obstacles together have made the experience more than a solely athletic venture. The sport has become the main athletic pursuit for both Declan and Brayden, rather than a foundation for other endeavors; but the most meaningful results have not come from competition judges.

“It’s been really fun. It’s weird to say fun, but when you watch the kids grow, it’s so enjoyable. It’s oddly enjoyable to watch the struggle. The learning, the processing. To see them come out better for it on the other side,” Susan said.

“They found something they have a passion for and they are applying themselves fully and seeing what they can do,” Brian said. “Learning the ups and downs of life, how to balance things, learning life. They are life skills that will take them to college and beyond, and make them productive and competent human beings.”

The dedication has not detracted from other priorities for the Whites. Declan and Brayden both earned USAG Academic All-America status, an honor Brayden also earned in 2018.

“It definitely means a lot because you get that recognition academically and athletically,” Brayden said. “People don’t always understand the difficulty to be at a high level in one discipline and to be at a high level in another discipline, academics. It’s important to me.”

To hear the White family tell it, the continued hardships presented by the sport have benefited the boys outside of competition. But now, those benefits are in turn producing better performances on the apparatuses.

“When I see him in the gym, when I see him competing, it looks like that is where he belongs,” Susan said. “When he presents himself to the judges, he owns it. He owns that floor. He owns that apparatus. That’s where he shines.”

“As I walk around today, my knees are hurting, my back aches, my lats are sore, my shoulder is sore, my neck is a little strained,” Brayden said. “It’s so intense, you’ve only got so long until you can’t do it anymore so you have to enjoy the time you have.”

Jared Bomba, staff writer, can be reached at jbomba@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7229.

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