- September 7, 2016
When a young Jaden Blank first took up gymnastics, he would think about his upcoming routine.
But at 4 years old, that visualization often warned of a worst-case scenario that included a painful fall.
Now a Lakewood Ranch High junior, Blank puts falls out of sight and mind. Over the years, he realized all sports carry some injury risk, and gymnastics is no different.
Blank won the Level 10 All-Around Championship (78.750) at the 2022 Florida Men's State Championships, held March 4-6 in Alachua, competing through Sarasota's EVO Gymnastics. Level 10 is the highest level of the Junior Olympic program overseen by USA Gymnastics. At the championships, Blank finished first in the floor exercise, vault, parallel bars, and high bar and finished second in the rings and pommel horse.
The secret to his stellar results?
"I always try to visualize my routines before I do them," Blank said.
It's quite different than his early days in the sport.
"I visualize making them and what that success feels like," he said. "I find it hard to tune out other things going on otherwise. It's important to my process."
Despite competing in gymnastics for most of his life, Blank said it only occurred to him this season how much his skills had developed and, therefore, how far he could go in the sport. There was not a single moment of realization for Blank as it came through reflection on how far he had come.
Watching years old videos of himself compared to recent videos, offered no comparison. He is more polished in every way.
While it might not make him a big man on campus, winning a state championship earns Blank respect within the gymnastics community.
It's OK with him if only his peers can understand what he has done. Gymnasts spend grueling hours working out each day with each other and most of Blank's friends are in that community. As long as his accomplishments are acknowledged by them, Blank said, he does not need any attention from outsiders.
"(More attention) would be what the sport deserves," Blank said. "But I also like where it is now."
As much as Blank enjoys competing as an individual, he equally enjoys competing as the member of a team. He was selected to represent Region 8 (Florida, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Mississippi and Tennessee) at the 2022 Elite Team Competition, where the best gymnasts from each of USA Gymnastics' nine regions compete with others from their region to see which regions finish on top. Blank, competing alongside seven other Region 8 gymnasts including Sarasota's Garrett Schooley, finished third overall at the competition.
Three of Region 8's eight competitors — Blank, Schooley and Saint Petersburg's Alex Karadzhov — train with EVO Gymnastics. The training is rigorous.
Blank practices five days a week for four hours a day after school. He said his coaches rotate events during each practice, each rotation lasting approximately 45 minutes, so the gymnasts get equal repetitions in all of them. It's a taxing sport, Blank said.
There are certainly times where he yearns for a day or two off. He always shows up, though and that helps him toward his goal of being an elite gymnast. Blank said he is thankful to have most weekends free to do what he pleases, which often involves playing video games or tinkering with old video game consoles, modifying them to increase their capabilities.
Blank's next goal could be achieved in August. The 2022 U.S. Gymnastics Championships will be held Aug. 18-21 at Amalie Arena in Tampa. Blank said he has dreams of competing in the event.
There are qualifiers he will need to ace between now and then to qualify, including the 2022 USA Gymnastics Development Program National Championships, held May 10-15 in Mesa, Arizona. The top-18 finishers from that event will advance to the U.S. Championships. Blank is aware of how tough the road will be, but said he believes he has the all-around skills and desire to qualify.
"I'm not the No. 1 gymnast in the world, but I am good," Blank said. "I don't have one strength that sticks out. I am well-rounded and I think that will help me. I have a good work ethic. I think I definitely have a shot."