November 27, 2017
Four acrobats enter the gymnasium floor and get in position. The signal goes off. The music starts pumping and the group begins their routine with synchronized jumping, dancing and tumbling. They create a pyramid and the little guy goes soaring through the air. Then they begin ipping and everyone is in the air. This is a day in the life of an acrobatic gymnast.
The Shields brothers, Sean, Grant and Cade, are three of these acrobats. All three Atholton students compete for the National Acrobatic Gymnastics team.
Senior Sean Shields, describes acrobatics, or acro, as “essentially gymnastics but without the apparatus, so rather than performing a flip ff of bars, you’d perform the ip off of another person. Instead of doing a handstand on the rings, you’d perform the handstand on another person.”
Six years ago, the family moved to Maryland having never heard of acro before. Cade, the youngest sibling, now a freshman, was a restless elementary-schooler who Sean recalled as “climbing all over the furniture.” Cade wanted to try gymnastics, but when he signed up at Emilia’s Acrobatics and Gymnastics Club, the coach recommended acrobatics. One year later, Sean and Grant joined Cade in the sport in which they all excel today.
Acrobatics has since become a major part of their lives. Sean and Grant’s Men’s 4 group, a team of four male acrobats, attended the World Championships in spring 2016 and earned a bronze medal in their category. Next spring, Cade will join them on Team USA in Antwerp, Belgium.
To prepare for their competitions, the brothers spend five days a week at the gym, putting hours of work into each routine. All three of them are bases, which requires the strength to lift other members in their groups. Their training is a huge commitment and does not easily work with other sports.
“The lifestyle is so much different than what people expect,” Cade said. “Acrobatics is a team sport where you can’t let any of your partners down by being too tired or too lazy or simply unavailable. Once you start, you are sworn in to the work and the physical expectation. Its an art requiring the three balances of athleticism: exibility, strength, and endurance. Some things are difficult to deal with, but acro changes you overall.”
The sport of acrobatic gymnastics is constantly evolving. The routines are created by the athletes, so each performance in a competition is unique.
“There’s always something new you can try or a new pyramid you can invent,” said Sean. “That’s another great thing about acro. You can invent skills as you go and make really complicated things happen.”
While there are no existing careers competing in acrobatics, the brothers plan on continuing to compete as senior elites in the future, and Sean considers possibly coaching one day.
While Cade knows that the sport is incredibly physical, he believes it’s a strong mentality that will make or break an acrobat. “Muscle will grow over time, routines will be memorized, skills will be trained, and fears will be overcome. However, in order to get along well with partners and main- tain good teamwork, discipline, patience, and tolerance are lifelong skills I use everyday at practice.”