Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

July 11, 2013

NCAA champion in uneven parallel bars addresses Rotarians

Ben Tinsley
Jacksonville Daily Progress

JACKSONVILLE — The good news? It appears that East Texas gymnast Alaina Johnson, 22, will probably stay her current height and weight – 5'2 and around 115 pounds – through old age. At least her 60s.

The bad news – at least for the many wannabe dieters out there – is that Johnson's incredible level of fitness is a combination of exceptional diet, exercise, and excellent genes from her parents, her Texas East Gym-nastics coach, M. Dwight Parsley, said.

The difficult part is acquiring those excellent parental genes, the coach joked.

His remarks were delivered in fun Wednesday at the weekly gathering of the Jacksonville Rotary Club.

Johnson, the current NCAA Division I National Champion in uneven parallel bars, the coach, and about five gymnastic prodigies appeared at the meeting.

As Johnson re-viewed highlights of her career, the young girls demonstrated their athletic  prowess to the roughly 30 members present at the noon lunch at the Challenge at The Woods – Jacksonville Country Club.

Currently a  member of the University of Florida gymnastics team, Johnson is a Tyler native and a lifelong trainee of the Texas East Gymnas-tics of Tyler, owned and operated by the Parsley Family.

Johnson also is a graduate of Robert E. Lee High School in Tyler.

Johnson – about to become a senior at the University of Florida – started going to school there a few years back, right after winning Regional Elite Gym-nast of the Year.

Her training in Florida is the first in her life that she has spent working with new coaches, Parsley said.

After college, John-son aspires to join Cirque Du Soleil for a few years followed by accelerated training and, ultimately, a career in nursing.

After watching the young students tumble and cartwheel and do painstaking headstands, she spoke philosophically about the lifetime she's dedicated to gymnastics.

“This has been my whole life,” she said enthusiastically. “I love working out. I love to sweat. It feels good and it makes me happy. I like pushing myself.”

Johnson said she one day plans to emulate Bethany, her 28-year-old sister in the nursing industry.

Her 25-year-old brother, Chris, is a construction manager.

Meanwhile, the young girls who provided the gymnastics demonstrations to supplement Johnson's comments were Hannah Hagle, 9, who is going into fourth grade; Kaylee Mitch-ell, 9, also going into fourth; Brooklynn Peterson, 11, about to go into sixth grade; Macy Dai Parsley, 11, about to go into sixth, and Christian Wright, 12, who is about to enter seventh grade.

All attend Tyler's Texas East Gym-nastics, which caters to over 600 students.

The girls, who all ranged in height, became a whirlwind of kinetic activity for the audience – each of them expertly executing hand walks, handsprings, and cartwheels, among other thrilling maneuvers.

Little Hannah Hagle took the spotlight for awhile and proved to be, basically, an expert at extending her tiny body at every angle.

She demonstrated a series of daring twists and turns for an amazed and delighted audience.

The Parsley family, which owns Texas East Gymnastics, is in the process of building a new gym near the current property in Tyler.