For the past nine years, Katherine "Kat" Jones has become a fixture with Top Contenders Gymnastics.
A Hudson High freshman who turns 15 at the end of the month, she collected plenty of awards while competing for the Spring Hill-based gym.
But when she found herself winning best all-around for Level 8 at the Sand Dollar Invitational, held Jan. 24-26 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, it was the culmination of a comeback.
Roughly two years earlier, she had broken her left ankle, forcing a lengthy recovery period, both physically and mentally.
"I missed it," Jones said. "Every chance I got to do what I could, every time I'd get on the bars. I felt like the gymnast I always was on the bars. That's why bars is my favorite event. It's all I could do (while injured).
"It (the time off) made me feel like I have to work harder and be more serious about the sport."
When she joined Top Contenders as a 6-year-old, she needed something to do. She still enjoys the family-like atmosphere, and the opportunity to learn new skills.
These days she practices three hours a day five days a week, and her father, Jay Jones, has become a coach at the gym the past three years.
"Katherine loves to do gymnastics," said Beth Solinski, who runs Top Contenders. "She's always done our sport to do our sport, not necessarily to win a meet. She's always wanting to learn something new, always wanting to try something new because she gets more of a rush out of saying, 'Hey, I did it.'
"What makes this year so different is the skill level she's walking out on the floor with. She's going out there with the highest skill level of all the other kids competing and doing it clean and successful. I think she's ready to go on to a higher level."
That appeared to be the case at the Sand Dollar, where she placed first in the vault (9.400) and beam (9.325), and second in the bars (9.325) and floor (9.225).
That gave her an all-around score of 37.300, good enough to best all other competitors not only within her session but throughout the entire Senior B division of that level.
"In all the years I've been teaching her, I've never seen her like this," Solinski said. "When she got this she was jumping up and down happier and more excited than I've ever seen her. I think part of it is she didn't think she could come back to do this after the injury."
"It felt like I never had that injury," Jones said of her reaction after winning. "It felt like I just took a break and came back and was myself."
She has continued to perform well at ensuing meets and is building toward the Florida USAG (USA Gymnastics) Level 7 and 8 State Championships in Fort Myers this weekend.
"Her confidence is soaring right now," Solinski said. "She doesn't doubt her skills or if she has the ability to do it, she just knows she can."
Ultimately she'd like to keep going with gymnastics when she enters college in a few years. She hopes to attend the University of Florida and work toward becoming a veterinary assistant, having grown up on a farm.
But now, she'll have a chance to keep showing that those ankle woes are in the rearview mirror.
"I feel like if I just go out there and do what I know how to do," Jones said, "I can do what I have to do to place first."
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Other Top Contenders gymnasts earned best all-around for their sessions at the Sand Dollar, including Hannah Summers in Level 2 (37.550) and Shelby Goode in Level 4 (36.050).
At the Gasparilla Classic Feb. 28-March 2 at Tropicana Field, Top Contenders earned team titles for both boys and girls.
Olivia Drummond posted a best all-around score for her session in Level 1, 36.150. Alexandria McCann (37.825), Hannah Summers (37.775) and Brianna Boice (37.675) all had best all-around scores for their sessions in Level 2.
In Level 3, Danika Abbadessa and Katie Johnson both swept through their sessions, taking first in every category. Abbadessa had a 9.225 in the bars, 9.725 in the beam, 9.700 in the floor and 9.550 in the vault for a 38.295 all-around.
Johnson posted a 9.325 in the bars, 9.350 in the beam, 9.800 in the floor and 9.575 in the vault for a 38.050 all-around.
In Level 4, Gabby Healis finished first all-around at 37.400, as did Savanna Kline with a 36.375. Mandy Birren (36.325) tied for first all-around in her session at Level 6.
For the boys, Reese Maynard was first all-around (60.500) for his session at Level 4, as well Jaiden Prickett (59.600) at Level 3.