June 22, 2024
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June 22, 2024
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Rachel Benson of Scarsdale: First Place Winner Of Regional Gymnastics Competition

The top six regional champions saluting.

Scarsdale’s Rachel Benson is completing her junior year at Leffell High School and simultaneously becoming a gymnastics superstar. Rachel began doing gymnastics when she was in elementary school, in 2013, at the JCC of Mid-Westchester when her mother signed her up as a recreational after school activity. JCC Director of Gymnastics Serina Cirillo, said, “We knew from the moment we first saw her that she had natural talent and an ability to understand gymnastics at a young age.” Cirillo immediately invited her to the JCC’s pre-team, and then to their competitive team just one year later.

When Covid came along, the JCC closed down, which was very disappointing, since Rachel was excelling in her gymnastics skills. The Benson’s weren’t ready to give up yet, so they found another gym, Westchester Gymnastics, in 2020. Rachel was trained by the head coach there for three years. This year, Rachel moved back to the JCC competitive team because her junior year workload was challenging, and the JCC commute was much shorter.

Over the course of the year, Rachel came in first place at every meet. Since she wasn’t actually considering going to the Olympics, Rachel switched from her Junior Olympic track at the JCC to the Xcel Platinum track, with her main goal being to reach Regional Championships. This track is also competitive, but less strict in certain ways, while upholding the same high standards for grading. In this track, “she could succeed in school, while still attending her required practices and meeting her goals,” said Cirillo.

Logistics became challenging as a leak in the JCC gym rendered it unusable and Rachel found herself a month before the big state competition with no gym in which to practice. While she scrambled to find times elsewhere, she was met with difficulty, because other facilities had their own gymnastics programs which were practicing as well. So, instead of her usual four nights a week for several hours, Rachel could only practice one or two nights each week and for one to two hours.

Despite this setback, at the state competition, Rachel won first place in her age group—the highest score of her entire gymnastics career. “The goal is to receive as few deductions as possible on each event, to get as close to a 40.0 overall,” explained Cirillo. At the state competition, Rachel placed first on three out of four events, and received an overall score of 37.80.

This major accomplishment granted Rachel one of the coveted spots reserved for the top eight gymnasts in the state for the New York State Super Team. As part of this team, the most elite eight gymnasts state-wide compete against the super teams of the six other states in the region at the Regional competition. “It was a true honor,” said Cirillo. “She met her goal, but she was ready to get back to work. Rachel worked in the gym day after day to upgrade her skills, make corrections and perform routines over and over until no mistakes could be found.”

The regional competition took place on June 2 in Westford, Massachusetts. Rachel received first place on bars and floor, second place on beam, and first place all around—giving her the role of XCel Platinum Regional Champion. “She received her personal highest floor (9.825) and all around (38.05) scores to date, and produced the highest individual event score of the entire Platinum competition,” reported Cirillo. “The tears rolled down my face as she held her final pose with poise, confidence and grace. That one pose embodied everything Rachel is as a person and a gymnast. It was an exclamation point at the end of a beautiful, stressful and ever-rewarding season.”

Rachel’s mother said that she received touching messages from other parents and coaches that brought tears of pride to her eyes. They praised Rachel’s passion and strong work ethic, as well as her respect towards the coaches, the other team members, and herself.

When asked about the challenge of being a religious Jew in the world of competitive gymnastics, Rachel’s father explained that it was challenging, but it had its own rewards. While there are other Jewish competitive gymnasts, many are not observant. “We have been very fortunate,” he said. “The coaches and gyms have been very accommodating. On Shabbat, she couldn’t carry the equipment with her to competitions, so they made arrangements to get it there before Shabbat, and we stayed in hotels nearby. Twice this year, there were competitions on Fridays. If it was close to Shabbat, they would move her along through the different disciplines so that she could complete her part before Shabbat.”

Mr. Benson pointed out that gymnastics is not Rachel’s only extracurricular activity. She coaches younger kids at the JCC on Fridays, she is a youth leader at Young Israel of Scarsdale on Saturdays, and she participates in school activities such as “moot beit din” and engineering. But gymnastics has been her greatest passion, and her crowning achievement.

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