After placing first in the all-around at the State Championships at Tonawanda on Feb. 28, Amara Cunningham did something that she had never done after a meet.
She had to improvise a signature after being asked for her autograph for some of her new fans that she gained.
While the freshman from Nyack said she isn’t used to the spotlight, it was inevitably going to shine on the Journal News gymnast of the year after her performances this season.
This season was not the first time that Cunningham represented Section 1 at the state meet. She was set to compete in all events last year, but was only able to perform in one event, the bars, due to a sore neck that she suffered a few days before.
This year, however, nothing was sore.
“I had my mind set on doing everything,” Cunningham said. “I tried my hardest to not get hurt before we left.”
It was a perfect way to cap off her season. Prior to states, she set the section record for an all-around score at a single meet with a 39.3, helping Nyack win a divisional title and then placed first at the sectional championships.
While she is excellent in all events, she is especially strong on the vault, where her combination of athleticism and her talent at controlling her body gracefully stand out.
She has nailed down the Yurchenko twist, a highly-difficult maneuver where she does a back handspring, twists in the air and sticks and landing. She was able to score a couple of 9.9s out of 10 with the maneuver during the season, including a 9.95 at the sectional championships.
“I’ve always loved vault since I was really little,” she said. “I think having a powerful event like this is really fun.”
The road that Cunningham has taken to get to where she is now began when she was 3 years old. Her older sisters were also gymnasts, and Cunningham couldn’t wait to get out onto the mat.
“As soon as I saw them doing flips, I just fell in love with it and wanted to get into the gym as soon as I could,” she said. “My mom said that I always jumped around at home and tried to do what they did.”
She started out at Rockland Gymnastics in Nanuet before moving to Galaxy Gymnastics when she was 6. Ever since, she has been coached by Jamie Winkler, an award-winning coach, as well as Sasha Miretsky, who used to train Olympic-level gymnasts in the Soviet Union.
Currently, she trains at Galaxy six days a week, four hours each day.
“Usually, right after school, I come here and I’m here till seven,” Cunningham said. “I get home, eat, do my homework and then do it all over again. I’ve been doing it forever, I’m used to it now.”
While many gymnasts at her skill level won’t participate for their high school teams due to club team commitments, Cunningham says she likes the high school competition because her friends from Galaxy compete in the league. She added that she will likely return to represent Nyack next year.
“I have fun at high school meets,” she said. “I like having a Nyack team; I like representing my school well.”
The rest of the first team
Bianca Carr, Tappan Zee, 8th
Leanne Castelli, Lakeland/Panas, Sr.
Nalani Dollopac, East Ramapo, Fr.
Skylar Kabatsky, Clarkstown, 8th
Samantha Haber, Clarkstown, So.
Coach of the year — Jamie Winkler/Sasha Miretsky, Clarkstown/Nyack/Tappan Zee
Shannon Berrigan, Clarkstown, Jr.
Katharine Dorovitsine, Mahopac, Jr.
Callie Johanson, Mahopac, Fr.
Anastasia Leone, Tappan Zee, Fr.
Tonianne Magnelli, Suffern, Sr.
Cassie Wishner, Nyack, Fr.
Melissa King, Mahopac, Sr.
Allison Lim, Tappan Zee, Sr.
Abby Marraccino, Nyack, 8th
Allie McCarthy, Brewster, Jr,
Cameron Mendelson, Clarkstown, 8th
Nicole Solomine, Somers, So.