Our Kind of People

Gymnast grind: Abby 'Abs' LaRosa trains hard after injury in Diamondhead

DIAMONDHEAD -- As Abby LaRosa chalked up her hands before a swing on the uneven bars, it was easy to see why her friends call her Abs.

The 14-year-old jumped onto the low bar, and as she swung to the higher bar, her "six-pack abs" were like ropes beneath her hot-pink leotard.

"My favorite color is pink," she said before her Thursday practice at the Brook-Lin Center in Diamondhead.

In many ways, Abby is a typical ninth-grader. The Our Lady Academy student loves boy band One Direction and pop singer Shawn Mendes. She said his single "Stitches" is one of her favorite songs.

In her free time, Abby enjoys hanging out with her friends.

But she hasn't much free time.

Every weekday, Abby's mother, Kim LaRosa, picks up Abby and another gymnast from the OLA's parking lot at 3:30 p.m. Abby eats a snack in the car and sometimes works on homework. She's at the gym until 8 p.m.

"If she lets us know she has a lot of homework, we pick up her up from the gym with her homework and she eats (dinner) in the car," LaRosa said.

Abby usually stays up until 11 p.m. or midnight during the week to finish school work. Sunday is the only day she doesn't put in four hours at the gym.

Last year, she missed intramurals, which Abby said is a "big thing at OLA." She also didn't attend spring formal.

But every time she nails a new flip or new movement, she knows all of her hard work has paid off.

"It keeps me busy," she said. "It's something that I like to have -- a goal in life that I have to get to."

Abby's parents are very supportive. Her father, Carl LaRosa, makes her breakfast smoothies every morning at their Pass Christian home. He often uses her favorite ingredients, such as a vegan protein powder and agave.

It's important to eat right and stay healthy, Abby said. She hasn't eaten at McDonald's in four years.

"Our family and friends think that she's crazy, and they can't comprehend how she can love something so much that she's willing to give up normal social time that other kids have," Kim LaRosa said. "But she's got a couple of really close friends that stick by her."

Abby is the three Ps

Terry Dalton, coach and owner of the Brook-Lin Center, is one of Abby's trainers. She and coach Alysha Pretzello work with Abby -- whether it be on the uneven bars, practicing tumbling for a floor routine or running correctly before a vault jump.

Dalton said three words apply to Abby: passion, persistence and patience.

"She's one of the hardest working athletes I've ever coached, and I've been coaching for 30 years," Dalton said.

Abby's first dance class was 11 years ago, when she was 3 years old. By the time she was 6, she had decided to pursue gymnastics full time. She joined a team at Brook-Lin.

Gymnastics, Dalton said, is about progression and movement. She said when Abby started, she already possessed what a good gymnast needs -- she was fast, strong and powerful. But she lacked awareness.

"If you don't have that natural air awareness, it takes you longer to learn a skill," Dalton said.

Recovering from injury

Just as she moved into a more-challenging tier of gymnastics, Abby suffered an injury when she had an awkward landing on a back flip off a beam, Dalton said.

She tore her Lis Franc ligament and spent 100 days in a boot.

"When she got hurt in February, she was on track to go to regionals. She was having the best season of her career," Kim LaRosa said. "She had surgery on a Wednesday and came to gym on Saturday, even though she really couldn't do anything but push-ups, chin-ups and upper-body stuff."

Dalton said sometimes Abby would get frustrated at practice and cry because she couldn't train, but she spent her down time working hard.

"She would do200 chin-ups and 200 pull-ups in sets of 25," Carl LaRosa said.

Dalton said she would also do upper-leg exercises on a machine when she could.

And her persistence paid off.

'Something just clicked'

At the beginning of the year, Abby couldn't do a full twisting layout on the floor. Now, she can do the full layout plus half, with a double back flip off the bars.

"It was like something just clicked," she said.

Dalton said Abby's dedication is what makes her an elite gymnast.

"In a couple of months' time, she got all of her skill back and is in the process of learning more," she said. "She just never gave up. She stuck with it, stuck with it, stuck with it."