Standing in the dimly lit, warehoused-sized ceiling gymnasium, Jacob Olds dusted his hands in powdered chalk. With his head hung low, he stared at the royal blue mats.
The gymnast jumped up to hang on the high bar, where he rhythmically swung back and forth before unleashing a flurry of skilled twists and flips.
With every repetition, every dismount, he critiques himself — he only has one shot left at the top.
Olds, of North Vernon, has battled through five surgeries in the past four years. His body may be war-torn, but he’s still a warrior.
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On May 5, Olds will travel to Daytona Beach, Florida, to compete in all six events for his third Junior Olympics in his 13-year gymnastics career.
Over the past two years, Olds has practiced at Seymour Gymnastics Center three hours a day five days a week in preparation for this event. He has been home-schooled his entire career, which allows for more flexibility in scheduling academics and athletics.
For Olds, the window is closing — at 18 he no longer will qualify for the Juniors following this next competition.
“It’s hard,” Olds said. “It takes a special mindset, because pain tolerance has to be high. I just want to succeed at what I do. Since I’ve been through so much, I want to finish it out. I’ve pretty much been through hell, and I’m going to finish it out.
“I pretty much just want to do the best I can and go all-out with the skills. It’s my last year being able to go to nationals, so I want to go out with a bang and have fun doing it.”
Olds’ knee has been scoped out twice; a nerve has been removed from his wrist; a metal plate, and seven screws were put in his arm due to bone overgrowth.
Most recently, Olds had a torn shoulder repaired, an injury he competed with all last season.
Last year, Olds was expected to compete in the Junior Olympics until, just one week prior to regional qualification, he rolled his ankle while already sustaining a torn shoulder.
Even though he was close to the Junior Olympics, Olds decided he had to withdraw due to the injuries.
About a month ago, Olds retook the qualification stage after a year’s worth of rehabilitation and practice. He finished 16th of 133 level 10 gymnasts at the Region 5 qualifiers with an all-around score of 75.15.
Events at the regional included the floor, pommel horse, still rings, vault, parallel bars and horizontal bar, which were combined for an overall score.
Region 5 consists of gymnasts from Indiana, Kentucky, Illinois, Michigan and Ohio.
Following the qualification, Olds forced himself to take it easy for about a week.
“The first week (after regionals) was pretty much just resting,” Olds said. “I was still coming into the gym and working out but not as heavily, just taking it easy. The last two weeks have been time to hunker-down, let’s get these skills and put them in the routine.”
To make it to this level, Olds has worked with Hungarian-born gymnastics coach Laszlo Szarvas in Seymour.
Szarvas, who owned a gymnastics gym in Franklin until 2001, has worked with Olds off and on since he was 6. The past two years Szarvas and Olds have worked side-by-side in Seymour to make the teen’s dream a reality.
“(Szarvas) is a fun coach,” Olds said. “I don’t think he’s quite as strict as other coaches. He will come in and joke with you, but he will do a fair balance. You come in, work hard, get done and that’s the fun of gymnastics — you have to keep working for the skills that you want.”
Over the years, Szarvas has sent a handful of girls to the Junior Olympics and is well known and respected in both boys and girls gymnastics in the United States and Hungary.
“(Olds) is a very hard worker,” Szarvas said. “A lot of times it’s just being on the safe side and not getting injured in practice. If he does a double back (on high bars), it’s six or seven hundred pounds that lands on one knee in the landing. So you really you shouldn’t do more than four or five in practice. You have to watch all that goes on. A lot of the percentage is mental at this level.”
Szarvas mentioned that Olds thrives in the spotlight, something that can’t be taught — a natural confidence.
“In the competition, when there’s a goal he needs to reach quick, he’s on it,” Szarvas said. “He performs better at meets than at home. That’s a big thing for us. A lot of gymnasts have trouble performing at the competition.”
Over the past year, Olds and Szarvas have traveled across the country to be a part of the toughest competition.
The Junior Olympics will have gymnasts from levels one to 10.
Olds will start out doing every event but could specialize depending on his overall scoring.
The Junior Olympics last about a week, depending on how a gymnast places, with Level 10s starting competition on the third day.
While both coach and gymnast agree that the floor exercise is one of Olds’ strongest events, Szarvas thinks he’s also strong on the high bars, while the Junior Olympian believes he’s better suited for the vault.
“I’ve always been good at flipping and knowing where my body is at in the air,” Olds said. “It’s something that I’ve been naturally better at over the years.”
When he was 9, Olds made it to the semifinals on rings.
In his last appearance, about three years ago, Olds said he didn’t place high enough in the opening rounds to make it to the semifinals.
Olds said he looks forward to seeing some familiar faces in Florida.
“In guys gymnastics, most of the guys you’re put with support you,” Olds said. “They will cheer you on, even from other teams and regions. It’s a friendly atmosphere, but you’re still out there to beat the other person. You want to beat them because you’re better, not because they screw up, fall, fail or get injured.”
Every Wednesday in Seymour, Olds helps coach the boys gymnastics team gym with Szarvas. The gym is in desperate need of coaches, and Szarvas and Olds coach with one another.
After earning his high school diploma, Olds has a few ideas of what he wants to pursue.
“I’m not really sure what I’m doing after high school,” Olds said. “The plan for right now is to stay in gymnastics, work out and help coach the boys team. College-wise I’m not really sure, but I’m looking into gun manufacturing and smithing.”
All of the life lessons that gymnastics has molded the battled-tested man you meet today.
“Its been rough. There’s been a lot of pain, struggles and frustration. Finally making it, looking back, it’s worth it. I’ve been through a lot to make it.
“I love everything about gymnastics,” Olds said. “It teaches you not to give up. When you can’t get a skill you keep trying. I think that’s important for life because if you fail at something you keep trying, you don’t sit down and give up. It teaches you to keep going on no matter what.”
“I just want to succeed at what I do. Since I’ve been through so much, I want to finish it out. I’ve pretty much been through hell, and I’m going to finish it out.”
Jacob Olds, on competing in the gymnastics Junior Olympics