Twelve-year-old Austin Jones says there's something really cool about being able to do things most people can't even fathom.
That's why he's loved gymnastics from the first time he tried it, when he was just a little tot of 4.
"I remember just having a really good time with my teammates and my coach, just doing all the fun stuff, flips and stuff," said Austin, who lives in St. Charles.
"I wanted to keep with that because it's really fun in the air, and not a lot of people could do it."
In the eight years since, Austin's hard work has propelled him to become one of the top young gymnasts in the country.
He took the gold medal in the vault -- his favorite event -- and 5th place in the parallel bars in his age and level during his first appearance at the 2013 Junior Olympic Championships in May. He placed 15th all-around at the event held in Portland, Ore.
"That was my best moment, at nationals in Portland," he said. "I felt awesome. Just the crowd cheering and stuff. It was pretty cool."
Austin has a natural talent for the sport, said coach Tom Wirth, the boys' team director at St. Charles Gymnastics Academy. Austin was the team's youngest member when he started at Excel Gymnastics in Batavia; the team moved to St. Charles in 2006.
He was among a dozen or so gymnasts from St. Charles Gymnastics Academy who made it to junior nationals this year -- and the team's first national champion since it started in 2001.
"It was a huge thing for us. Kind of unbelievable, but awesome at the same," Wirth said.
Austin has always been disciplined, said Wirth, who's coached hundreds of kids in the last 20 years.
"If you tell him he has to do 10 (reps) of something, you don't have to sit there and watch him do all 10. You know he'll do it."
He's also a gregarious kid who knows how to balance having fun while getting workouts done.
"I don't think I've ever seen him in a bad mood," Wirth said. "He's always laughing."
Austin said he never wants to miss practice and likes to spend as much time in the gym as possible. During the summer, he practices five days a week on parallel bars, pommel horse, high bar, floor, rings and vault. Practice is four days a week for about 3½ hours during the school year.
The vault is his favorite event.
"You run and jump off your spring board, you do all this cool stuff off the vault in the air," he said. "The vault is my best event. The high bar is the hardest for me. It's hard keeping the form while you're doing all those swings."
Austin recently was diagnosed with a wrist facture, so he hasn't been able to practice for the last couple of weeks. He should be back in the game soon, but meanwhile, it's been hard to see his teammates learn new things without him, he said.
"It kind of stinks because everybody is getting new tricks and I want to work on them. For example, double back flips and new tricks on horse and parallel bars," he said. "I just want to work."
Austin's parents, Cory and Stephani Jones, were both athletes in their youth. Cory Jones sells real estate, while Stephani Jones is a special-education teacher at Haines Middle School in St. Charles.
"She and I had moderately successful athletic careers, but the kids are much better than we ever were," Cory Jones said. The family includes Kayla, 13, and Ashley, 9, both swimmers.
"It's a little surprising to me that at such a young age -- not just Austin but all the others on the team -- it's surprising that they could make such a big commitment at such a young age," he said. "I'm super proud to see all the hard work and all the time at the gym pay off. I know it's not easy. I think big goals and big dreams are wonderful."
Austin, who will be a seventh-grader at Thompson Middle School, said he wants to get a gymnastics scholarship to college and become an Olympic gymnast.
"It takes training. A lot of training," he said.
He gets mostly B's in school, where his favorite class is Spanish. And A's for gym class. "It's pretty easy," he says, smiling.
He also plays forward and midfielder for the Fox Valley Strikers soccer team and takes electric guitar lessons once a week. He loves surfing in the summer.
Austin said getting nervous is not really his style. He takes three deep breaths before starting an event and relies on his team to keep him grounded come competition time.
"I have really good coaches, and my teammates are really nice. I like them all. They push me a lot to be a better gymnast," he said.
The only time the thought of quitting gymnastics crossed his mind was when he reached level 6 in the sport, he said. He's now at level 8.
"The work was super hard. We were doing handstands against the wall for like, 3 minutes, for a long time, to get stronger," he said. "Then my dad talked to me. He said, 'Every time your muscles hurt, you're getting stronger.' I thought that was pretty cool."
As for Austin's dream of making it to the Olympics, it's impossible to tell if that will happen, Wirth said.
"You never want to say 'never,' but it's very tough in our sport because it's five boys that go (to the Olympics) every four years. It's a very tough road," he said. "Some (young athletes) get burned out, some get injured. It's very hard in our sport."
Still, Austin has a shot as good as anyone's, he said.
"He's got the work ethic, definitely. If he keeps working hard and he starts passing up some of the kids, you never know."
Elena Ferrarin wrote today's column. She and Kimberly Pohl always are looking for Suburban Standouts to profile. If you know of someone whose story just wows you, please send a note including name, town, email and phone contacts for you and the nominee to firstname.lastname@example.org or call our Standouts hotline at (847) 608-2733.Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.