Trinity Thomas' living room was her first floor exercise space.
Her parents' couches and chairs were her first vaults and balance beams.
When she was 7 years old, the York County native was a gymnast at heart, using anything she could find in her family home to jump off and flip on.
At the time, Thomas was just a rambunctious child without much intention on having a life in gymnastics. She was simply trying to burn off some of her endless supply of energy. So, her parents, Tisen — who played football for York High and Penn State — and Titania, signed her up for cheerleading as a way for her to put her flipping and jumping abilities to good use without the risk of damaging any of their furniture.
She was spotted shortly after by a gymnastics coach, who got her into the sport. At 15 years old, Thomas has greatly evolved since her days of doing makeshift routines in her parents' living room, with her gymnastics taking her around the country and, more recently, around the world, as one of the nation's top junior gymnasts.
Now, the West Manchester Township girl has her sights set on something bigger, the ultimate goal for any gymnast when they start out in the sport. Over the course of the next four years, Thomas will set her sights on Japan — Tokyo to be more exact — the site of the 2020 Olympic Games. She's too young to qualify for this summer's games in Rio, but if her recent performance in her first-ever competition for the USA Gymnastics team is any indication about her future, then Thomas should be right in the middle of the conversation four years from now.
Jesolo Trophy: The City of Jesolo Trophy checked off a lot of firsts for Thomas.
It was the first time she'd ever been to Italy and the first time she'd ever competed outside of the United States for that matter. It was also her first-ever competition representing Team USA.
Shortly before Thomas went to Italy back in March, she was invited to become a member of USA Gymnastics. There was little time to adjust for the small-town girl from York County, yet she made her inclusion on the roster worth it.
Competing in the junior competition, she won the gold medal in the floor exercise and was fifth in the all-around competition, solidifying her selection as a USA team member in a big way.
"That was big for me because I was representing the USA for the first time in my career," she said.
It's hard to say what the Jesolo Trophy compares to in another sport. But, consider that Thomas was over there with fellow USA Gymnastics senior team members Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas — two Olympians at the 2012 games — and it will help you understand that the competition was a big deal.
Thomas is hoping that Jesolo was just the first of many international competitions for her as a member of the USA Gymnastics team. Without the Olympics to look forward to this summer, she has her sights set on the P&G Championships — named after Proctor & Gamble — which is the biggest competition of the year for non-Olympic-bound American gymnasts because it's where they can either make or re-qualify for the US Gymnastics team.
So Thomas will compete at the P&G event later this month in the hopes of performing well enough to make it back on the the US Gymnastics team for next season, which will begin shortly after the Olympics, setting her up with endless international possibilities.
"Every year, you have to re-make the national team," Thomas said. "But, I have a good chance of making it again at P&Gs this year, and then I can go to worlds and I have eligibility to go to the Olympics as well."
Should Thomas re-make the US Gymnastics team following the P&G Championships this summer, it'll set her up with another grueling schedule of travel, not just internationally, but going back and forth from her home in York County down to Texas.
Multiple messages left for USA Gymnastics were not returned.
Life as a gymnast: Once a month, for five days, Thomas will pack her suitcase and head to Texas, where she trains with the national team.
Aside from the constant traveling and different approach to school, it's there where Thomas isn't like most teens her age. She practices with some of the best gymnasts, not just in the country, but in the world, spending time with the likes of Raisman and Douglas, who were part of the U.S. team that won the team gold medal at the 2012 Olympics in London. Douglas also won gold in the all-around competition, while Raisman won gold in the balance beam and bronze in the floor exercise. Both serve as great mentors to Thomas, especially Raisman, who excels in both of Thomas' two strongest events, the floor and balance beam.
"It's an honor because I get to be in the middle of everything and they can teach me what they already know," Thomas said. "I just learn a lot from them."
During the three weeks out of each month that Thomas isn't training with the national team, she's at Prestige Gymnastics in Lancaster, her home base for training. Every day, for four hours, she trains there, typically from 1 p.m. until 5 p.m.
For Thomas, someone who competes in the all-around competition, it's essential for her to be strong in every event. While she shines on the beam and floor exercise, it's also crucial that she be competitive in the vault and uneven bars.
When she's not training, she still has to take classes just like any normal teenager. But she doesn't attend nearby West York High School. Instead, she takes cyber school classes through Connections Academy. She attended West York Middle School last year as an eighth grader, but because of her training and travel commitments this year, she would've been splitting time between in-school and online courses through West York, and at the beginning of the school year, West York High School's online courses were not NCAA-approved, meaning she wouldn't earn the credits to qualify and compete in college in a couple years.
But, it's not just Thomas who is constantly making sacrifices in her school and social life. Her parents also have to take time out of their busy lives as parents to four other children — Tesia, Taelyn, Tristen and Tayvon — to travel all over the country to see Trinity compete. It wasn't until recently, however, when Trinity made the U.S. Gymnastics team and began traveling on her own, that her parents finally started to understand the scale on which their daughter was competing.
"The new part is her going away on her own. That was an adjustment," her mother, Titania said. "Being comfortable with her going across the country with her coach ... I was entrusting her with someone else to take her to Texas every month for five days and bring her home safely."
When they're apart, Trinity and her family resort to any form of communication they can get, whether it's through FaceTime, or, if the WiFi isn't strong, a simple phone call. Through a mother's intuition, Titania says she can tell how Trinity's practice went.
Getting away from the sport: By July, with the Olympics beginning in August, Trinity's competition season will end.
Then, for the next few months, she'll take a break from gymnastics and focus on her other interest — swimming.
That's been another passion of hers since she was little, but she hasn't done it as much over the last couple years because her gymnastics took up so much of her life. It's something that she does to help heal her body from the 10-month pounding that gymnastics puts her through. It's also a sport that her younger siblings do, so it's a chance for them to bond in the water.
Then, once next fall rolls around, it's back into the gym to prepare for the 2016-17 season. While that competition season will be her main focus for the near future, it will just be the first of several steps to fulfilling her lifetime dream of qualifying for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
"You hear stories, and then to have your own story to tell and see that it can happen to people that aren't rich and famous...," Titania said. "She puts her hard work in it and she deserves it and she's very humble. I think her being humble makes it even more gratifying, because she appreciates it much more and I appreciate it because she's enjoying it and loving it."
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org