Lilly Westphal wasn’t exactly brimming with confidence.
Between sickness and a busy schedule of school activities, Lilly had found little time to prepare for the AAU Age Group National Gymnastics championships last month. How little?
Try one day.
“I thought I was going to completely fail.” Lilly said.
What Lilly did, however, was completely succeed. In her first, and what will be her only, national meet, Lilly medaled in all four events and won the all-around title in the Level 6 Senior B National Championships, held June 13 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in the Walt Disney World Resort outside Orlando.
Lilly, a 14-year-old who will be a freshman at Lee’s Summit High School this fall, finished with an all-round score of 37.150. She won the balance beam with a score of 9.425, placed second in floor exercise with a stellar 9.625, third in the uneven bars and sixth in the vault, both with 9.050 marks.
That she could perform so well came as no surprise to her parents, Ralph and Debbie Westphal. But the fact that she could do it after hardly seeing the inside of a gym for almost a month was downright stunning.
“When they called out third (during the awards ceremony) it was her best friend, so we thought, ‘Oh, she’s going to get second,’” Debbie Westphal said. “Then they called second and it was someone else. Then I turned to my best friend from the team, and looked and we said, ‘First!’ It was such a shock.”
Lilly had to advance through a series of AAU qualifying meets to get to Orlando. The first qualifier was in February, then she won a regional qualifier May 3 with an all-around score of 37.6.
But Lilly, the oldest of the Westphal’s two adopted daughters from China, has more than gymnastics on her plate. By May, she was immersed in other activities at Pleasant Lea Middle School, where she was an honor roll student two years. Dance practice for the awards assembly took up three nights a week. She was also painting scenery for a show.
Then she came down with strep throat.
“She had barely two practices all month.” Westphal said.
So when they arrived in Florida having had only one workout after regionals, Lilly and her family didn’t have the highest of expectations.
“When she woke up that morning and said, ‘Will you be disappointed if I don’t do well?’ I told her it’s your last meet. Do your best, that’s all anyone can ask of you, and just have fun,” Westphal said.
The national meet marks the end of Lilly’s involvement in gymnastics, but it almost ended sooner. She took her first tumbling classes as a four-year-old, and by the time she was a first grader she was enrolled at Great American Gymnastics Express, the Blue Springs gym that’s turned out several Olympians.
But after six months there, she told her parents she “just wanted to be a kid” and quit. That summer, she was watching the 2008 Beijing Olympics and saw Ivana Hong, who also trained at GAGE when Lilly was there.
“She was watching and she said, ‘I want more medals,’ Westphal said. “So we said, ‘OK, where do you want to go?’”
Turns out she wanted to go to Dave’s Gymnastics Factory, which is only a five-minute drive from their home in eastern Lee’s Summit. And there she stayed until her last meet.
“We figured it out about a year before, because she told us she wasn’t interested in doing gymnastics in college,” Westphal said. “And she wanted to do this and she wanted to do that, and we told her, you can’t do everything. I said I think this should be your last year.”
There’s no gymnastics team at Lee’s Summit High, and it isn’t a state-sanctioned sport. Lilly, who plays the flute and loves art, will find plenty of other things to keep her busy.
“I’m doing marching band, flags and then I want to sign up for a couple of other things,” she said.
And she can tell all her friends she went out an unexpected champion.
“She amazes me,” Westphal said. “Just totally amazes me sometimes.”