When Sophie Manson was a child she was always jumping on and flipping off things, so a family friend suggested she try gymnastics.
“It was probably the safest option,” she jokes.
What began as a way to harness her energy has turned into a potential path to the Olympic Games.
Fast forward 11 years and the young gymnast is competing with some of the best in the world.
Sophie recently returned from Hawaii where she took part in two consecutive competitions, ‘Gymnastics in Paradise’ and ‘Aloha Gymfest’.
She was part of a team of 14 Kiwis who qualified for the team, following nationals in October.
Unaware of her selection, a friend messaged her the link to the team.
“It was really exciting because I had no clue.”
While she did get to enjoy some time lying on the iconic Hawaiian beaches, the trip was all business for Sophie.
“It was a great experience and cool to compete somewhere else,”
The Nelson College for Girls student competed in the vault, bar, beam and floor against athletes from Australia, Canada, the United States and Japan.
She went on to finish fifth and fourth overall, respectively.
“It was definitely better than I was expecting.”
While the majority of her routines went well, Sophie wasn’t immune from the occasional slip up in the pressure-cooker environment.
“It is the life of a gymnast that the occasional thing goes wrong. You fall off the beam or on your butt, but you just have to learn how to deal with that and pick yourself up.”
Sophie says she was inspired watching and rubbing shoulders with some truly “amazing athletes”.
“It was great to see how they handle pressure and how they train.”
The 16-year-old admits she wasn’t the most naturally-gifted gymnast.
“I was quite clumsy and uncoordinated but got better as I got older.”
She now sets her sights on a trial for the Pacific Rim and to be classed as a senior international gymnast.
Though her training schedule can be demanding, she calls on her inner child in tough times.
“Seeing how far I’ve come and thinking of the little girl who fell in love with the sport and why I started in the first place, that’s what keeps me motivated.”
While that little girl dreamed of Olympic glory, the teenaged Sophie is more realistic about her goals.
“I’m just going to go with the flow. The Olympics would be amazing but will take a lot of hard work.”