Edris Graves

Newark Charter freshman Edris Graves is preparing for his fifth trip to the gymnastics regionals.

Edris Graves has been involved in the sport of gymnastics since he was 7 years old.

At first, he just liked the thought of jumping and tumbling around on the different pieces of apparatus and thus didn’t take the sport very seriously. Like many of his friends, Graves also experimented with basketball, soccer, flag football and swimming.

Eventually, it was the sport of gymnastics that he enjoyed the most, and he quickly learned that in order to keep reaching higher levels, he’d be required to undertake an intense training regimen. This meant he would have to stop playing other sports.

“Gymnastics came natural to me,” said Graves, a freshman at Newark Charter School who competes for KMC gymnastics in Kennett Square, Pa. “It was fun flipping around and I was good at it. Once I got on the competitive team at age 7, I had no interest in any other sport. I do not regret the decision to specialize in gymnastics at all.”

Despite what some people think whenever a child athlete specializes so intensely in a sport, Graves’ decision to do so was his and his alone.

“Gymnastics has always been a choice for me,” Graves said. “My parents never forced it on me. If I want to hang out with friends, go bowling, to the movies, family functions and miss practice, it’s my choice. I haven’t missed out on much at all.”

Graves trains 19 hours each week: Monday through Thursday 5 to 8 p.m. and Saturday morning for three hours. He also has a private gymnastics session on Wednesdays with his coach.

“I wake up at 6:30, start school at 7:30 and I’m home by 2:45 p.m.,” he explained. “I leave for gymnastics practice at 4:15 and I’m back home from practice at 9:45. I eat, shower, study and am in bed by 11:30ish.”

He has good reason to make sure he studies.

“School comes first in my house — no Honor Roll, no gymnastics,” he said.

His only break from training comes when the family is on vacation. But even then, he still stays in shape.

“I don’t do gymnastics per say while on vacation, but I stretch, do push-ups, pull-ups and sit-ups,” he said. “There was one week I did nothing and I paid for it when I got back to the gym. I couldn’t even do a split and I’ve been doing them since I was 4. I’m not as flexible as I used to be now that I’ve grown.”

Graves’ hard work has paid off. The major meets in which he has competed include the West Point Invitational, Brian Babcock Invitational (BBI) and the Philadelphia Boys Invitational. At the most recent BBI, Graves placed second in the all-around following a first-place finish on the rings, second on pommel horse and third in the high bar.

In gymnastics circles, the BBI has developed into one of the largest and most prestigious men’s invitationals in the country, highlighting gymnasts from across the country and abroad. But like any top athlete, Graves treats every meet the same.

“My goal is to always do my best, large or small meets,” Graves said. “In the large meets, I have less room for error. The competition level is so high in the large meets.”

Graves recently returned from the Pennsylvania State Championship, held March 9 and 10 in Gettysburg, Pa. He medaled in five events, highlighted by second-place finishes in the pommel horse, vault and high bar events. He also placed third on parallel bars and fourth on the floor exercise. Graves’ point totals earned him second place in the All-Around competition, qualifying him for April’s Regional Championship, held in Landover, Md.

“I’ll continue to practice hard, execute my skills and stick my landings,” he said of his preparation for the regionals, where he has yet to medal in four other tries. “But first and foremost, I pray.”

Regardless of how he does at regionals, that event will be the end of the road for Graves this season. Graves, 14, competes at Level 9 in the 15-16 age division, a category that is not offered at Nationals. Therefore, whether he gets on the podium at regionals or not, the very next week, he will return to Delaware and continue training toward his goals.

In 2015, Graves’ goal was to be in the Olympics. When asked the same question four years later, his reply was slightly different.

“It would be great to make the Olympics, but it’s not my goal,” he said. “I want to be a pediatrician.”

To reach that goal, Graves will need to focus, work hard, and be committed. Something he has already proven he can do.

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