Encinitas gymnast takes third at national championships

It’s was an incredible summer for Encinitas 10-year-old Rowan Smark, who in June took third place in her age group’s all-around competition in the Level 7 U.S. Rhythmic Gymnastics National Championships.

At the national event, which was contested in Rhode Island June 8-13, Rowan won a gold medal with her hoops routine by scoring an 11.050. That’s first place in the country.

“Like any 10-year-old, she was head over heels,” Rowan’s father Shawnn Smark told the Encinitas Advocate. “With her coach, she and the other athletes at her gym know they are rewarded for hard work.”

The amazing summer continued later that month when the family traveled to Europe, where Rowan participated in an international elite camp in Barcelona where she received training from members of the Russian Rhythmic Gymnastics team, including several Olympians. There, she worked alongside young gymnasts from Spain, Belgium, Russia, Canada, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and other countries, which her dad called “a wonderful international experience.”

While Rowan’s accomplishments made her deserving of the honor on their own, there was a connection to the Russian team through her coach Anastasia Formin, a former elite level performer in Russia who teaches at the Irene School of Rythmic Gymnastics in Lake Forest.

Other than his daughter’s talent and work ethic, Shawnn Smark listed Formin as the biggest reason for the Rowan’s successful season.

Rowan finished seventh at the South California State Championships and 11th at the Region 1 Championships to earn her spot at Nationals. After those two events in April, she and Formin worked extra hard to prepare, and it paid off with the third-place national finish and the gold medal in hoop.

“Half of the training is on flexibility and then the other parts are artistry and dance, and apparatus handling (hoop, ribbon and ball),” the elder Smark explained. “Rowan has great presence, she’s just fearless. These girls, they make the apparatus an extension of their body, it’s incredible, and that’s become her specialty.”

At this level, Olympics and other international competitions are certainly on the girls’ radar, and they train accordingly. Rowan, whose family has lived in Encinitas since 2002, is home-schooled by her mom Kathleen to accommodate a training schedule that includes private lessons three mornings per week, six days of four-hour workouts in Lake Forest, as well as ballet about eight hours per week. Rowan started her ballet work at the Encinitas Ballet Academy.

“We let our daughter set her own goals, she certainly has Olympics on her mind,” said Shawnn Smark, who works in marketing. “But those are only every four years so it is all about timing. There are World Championships and (other similar events) every year and if she wanted to go on the international circuit I think that would be great. To compete and travel around the world, that’s character-making.”

And Rowan might have someone to travel to those events with, as younger sister Devynn, 8, is similarly skilled at the sport. Devynn also participated in the nationals for her age group over the summer, traveling to Lake Placid, N.Y.

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