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Sarah Finnegan is Reaching the Top
Sarah Finnegan is Reaching the Top
July 14, 2012
Pictured left to right:
Coach Armine Barutyan, Sarah Finnegan
and Coach Al Fong
Tribune Photo/Linda Ahern
By Wendy Hayworth
Intern Reporter of the Tribune
“Don’t rush. You can do it, just calm down. One skill at a time.” These are the thoughts that run through Sarah Finnegan’s mind as she steps onto the floor. The crowd watches her, waiting for her first move. This is who Finnegan is: A competitor, a gymnast, a winner.
Under the instruction of former gymnasts Al Fong and his wife, Armine Barutyan, Finnegan has found herself closer to the Olympic Flame than ever before. Finnegan, a 15 year old girl from Lake Lotawana/Lee’s Summit, has been named an alternate for the 2012 USA Olympic Women's Gymnastics Team.
Finnegan has such a bold presence at competitions; the crowd can’t help but fall in love with her. Off the beams, however, Finnegan is very soft spoken. She carries herself in such a way that you can’t help but smile with her. She knows exactly what she needs to do and because of that, she is completely at peace with herself.
Beginning at age three, while taking preschool class with her mom, Finnegan found her passion: A passion that her three sisters (aged nine, 11 and 17) all share.
Born and raised in St. Louis, her family began to discuss moving only four years ago. Why? So that Finnegan could train with Al Fong at GAGE located at 1101 Northwest Jefferson Road in Blue Springs.
Fong says he was very interested to see her.
“We had some reports of her as she had competed against some of our kids at Regionals,” Fong said.
“I remember walking in and seeing the girls. They were doing exercises. I was so nervous, I wouldn’t talk,” Finnegan remembered.
Within moments of stepping onto GAGE’s padded floors, Fong put Finnegan through a strenuous test. He wanted to see how strong she really was. Knowing that she had very little optional training, he put her up against his own kids who had optional skills just to see how she would do.
“I wasn’t looking for the skills that she didn’t have. I was looking for the potential to learn new skills. I saw all of that,” Fong said.
There’s a reason Finnegan traveled the distance to train at GAGE. Fong has brought not one but two women to the Olympics before. Terin Humphrey and Courtney McCool made it to the USA Olympic Gymnastics Team in 2004. Fong also coached Ivana Hong who was an alternate for the 2008 Olympic team.
Fong knows better than to take all of the credit though.
“The real star of my family is my wife, Armine Barutyan. She was one of the best Soviets in history back in the 80s. It’s rare to be a great athlete and a great coach but that’s my wife,” Fong said.
Fong and Barutyan proved their stuff when they realized just how much needed to be done.
“Three years ago we knew we needed to catch up. We were so far behind,” Fong remembered.
While she was still in Age Group, Finnegan was competing with elite gymnasts. She had to come a long way, learning the basics as well as new skills.
“We were pushing the envelope big time,” Fong said.
In 2010 at the Pan American Championships in Guadalajara, Mexico her team took first. Finnegan placed third on the Balance Beam. The next year she traveled to compete in Italy. Due to a back injury she was rendered unable to compete. In 2012, she made a major comeback in Italy. Her team placed first yet again. Finnegan took third in the all around and floor exercise, fourth on the balance beam, sixth on the vault, and tied for seventh on the uneven bars.
Placing sixth all around at the U.S. Olympic Trials in California, Finnegan dreams of joining the team and bringing home the gold.
There is much more on this young girl’s mind than gold. She will be starting public school for the first time next year.
She’ll be joining her sisters at Summit Christian Academy second semester. Finnegan has been home-schooled all her life and looks forward to seeing what a school atmosphere is like.
“All of my friends are at the gym. I want to meet new people,” Finnegan said.
GAGE isn’t the only thing that brought the Finnegan family to Lake Lotawana/Lee’s Summit. They traveled across the state, not only to train, but to be closer to the International House of Prayer in Grandview.
Finnegan knows that she will never stand alone. At every competition she will have the prayers and support of her family.
This is only the beginning for Finnegan.
“In the years coming up after the Olympics, we’re going to be pulling ahead,” Fong said.
The USA Olympic Women's Gymnastics Team members are at their peak. Finnegan is just coming into hers. According to Fong, “She’ll be going past them.”
Finnegan needs your help. USA Gymnastics covers the cost of one gymnast and one coach. Finnegan was trained by both Fong and Barutyan.
Finnegan wishes to have the continued support of both her coaches. Please help out by donating by visiting http://www.indiegogo.com/gagecenter?c=home.
Visit: http://www.gagecenter.com/dragon-gymnastics/our-staff/leadership/ to learn more about Al Fong
and his wife, Armine Barutyan.
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