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Drew Aldridge: A young athlete with quiet fire

Cassandra Cousineau | OW Contributor | 12/15/2016, midnight
By nature, Drew Aldridge is not the type of person who seeks the limelight; she just happens to be the ...

By nature, Drew Aldridge is not the type of person who seeks the limelight; she just happens to be the type of exceptional individual the limelight deservedly finds. Drew has given a young person’s lifetime of dedication to the challenging sport of gymnastics. Along the way, the 16-year-old has developed a keen sense of identity that adults twice her age are still in search of.

It started early. A child who possessed what her mother, Tiffany Aldridge refers to as “quiet fire” began playing soccer and taking dance lessons at the Debbie Allen Dance Studio at the tender age of 4. Her venture onto the pitch was short-lived. She told her parents she was “allergic to grass and didn’t really like dancing.”

Aldridge trains out of the All Olympia Gymnastics Club (AOGC) five days per week. A student at Pacifica Christian High School, she also has to be self-disciplined and intensely organized with her time. Half of her day is spent in class, then she reports directly to the gym for up to a six-hour training session. The rigorous schedule is like a job. And Drew Aldridge is all business.

She speaks with a confident tone that lets you know she’s secure in her own skin. “I have to identify a goal to push myself. Just like with anything in life, you’ll never know what you’re capable of if you don’t have something to reach for.”

The talented athlete maintains academics as her priority. Her hard work has paid off as Drew declared that she will attend the University of North Carolina where she’ll join the gymnastics team and study communications. “I considered a few schools including Berkley, Ohio State and William and Mary. I paid close attention to what each had to offer academically in all of my visits. I really needed to find the best fit for me.”

In Chapel Hill, she’ll be able to fuse the technical skills valued in club competition with the artistry more generously scored at the collegiate level.

Even as her gymnastics career is on the rise, Drew is intently looking towards a career in sports broadcasting. A clip of her appearing on a youth-hosted show titled “Kid’s Courtside” discussing Xs and Os around the Lakers is available on her website drewaldridge.weebly.com. Something her mentor, ESPN’s Cari Champion, would definitely be proud to view.

Much like one of her idols, Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles, vault has evolved as Drew’s strongest event since she first entered gymnastics. And she’s been racking up titles on the apparatus ever since. This past spring, the future Tar Heel competed to a second place finish at the Chow’s Challenge, and earned the vault title. She also took home the vault title at the Gymnastics Legends and fourth in the all-around.

After the 2004 Games in Athens, a new point system replaced the old scoring system for all events. The possibility of the Perfect 10 was eliminated in favor of an open-ended system. There’s no such thing as perfection in gymnastics. Only will; the will to be at one’s best as much as possible.

Aldridge is pragmatic in her approach to the highly subjective sport in a way that will serve her well as an adult. The nerves are unmistakable. Unavoidable. Standing in the queue before her name is called she feels the pressure that comes not from outside expectations, but those held within.

When asked how she handles the pressure, she responded, “The nerves will always be there. I just focus on what I can control.”

As she reflects on her growth as an athlete, Aldridge appreciates how her experience will impact others.

“Young athletes should push themselves and try to have some fun along the way. Don’t punish yourself for what is out of your control.”

Gymnastics is a grinding sport known for its relentless criticism. Without a goal, progress is as ephemeral as the high flying skill. The sport’s emphasis on microscopic evaluation is the greatest differentiator amongst athletes who are able to persevere and those who are unable to meet the challenge.

Unequivocally, Drew Aldridge has the mental endurance and athletic talent to be a formidable match for any challenge she might be faced with.