By Kevin Posival
Killeen Daily Herald
HARKER HEIGHTS – What started as an after-school activity for Rashonda Cannie turned into a dream come true. As a 7-year-old, Cannie's father enrolled Rashonda in gymnstastics at Texas Tumblers in Harker Heights so that she would be looked after until he got off of work at 5.
Cannie has made huge strides in the 10 years since; more accurately, she vaulted her way to a scholarship at Texas Woman's University and signed a national letter of intent on Friday at the gym with her mother, Donna, Texas Tumblers owner and coach, Mark Walsh and a host of friends.
"My mom was deployed and my dad is also in the army," Cannie said. "He couldn't pick me up until 5, so he put me into gymnastics ... he used to do gymnastics."
Added her mother, "she was bored. He wanted to do something for her. He did gymnastics, so that's where he put her. I wasn't happy about it at first," Donna admitted. "I ran track all through growing up so that's where I was pushing her. Then, it was in her blood."
Rashonda said she first started thinking about scholarships in the sixth grade. At first, she said, she wanted to go to Georgia because that's where she's originally from.
"A couple of years ago, I finally figured out what I wanted to major in," Rashonda said. "Science, so I started looking at schools with a good science department. I'll major in biology and then get into radiology and TWU is a great place to start."
TWU is also among the elite in national gymnastics programs with eight national championships since 1993, including one in 2006 and a span of four straight from 1993-96.
"Being as it's the only university that offers a 'paid' scholarship for gymnastics in the state ... Texas is most competitive state in the nation for gymnastics," Texas Thumblers' 14-year owner Mark Walsh said. "(Frank Kudlad, TWU gymnastics coach) has the pick of the Texas kids because it's the top school in the state, like the University of Texas is for football. It's very tough to get into that school."
Donna said she approached Rashonda a while back about putting together a list of her top-5 college choices. Rashonda put together the list and all five were TWU.
Rashonda tried to make first contact with TWU by e-mail, but the university's e-mail was down, but when she did finally get through, she found out the Pioneers had been watching her and liked what they saw.
"She was happy (when she the e-mail)," Donna said. "But nothing beat when they called her and made her the scholarship offer.
It's great because this was the only school in her top-5. When I saw her list, I was worried. I'm so proud of her because this was her goal and she reached it."
It wasn't as much about Rashonda's reach, even she admits that she's not graceful, as it is about how she's as physically strong as she is head-strong.
"I do all four events (vault, balance beam, bars and floor exercise)," Rashonda said. "The vault's my favorite because I'm not very graceful. (The vault) is more about energy and umph ... I like energy."
Added Walsh, "She's a very powerful gymnist. She's strong and fast, that's what we spotted early on. Vault is about speed and power ... it's purely a power event."
She started Texas Tumblers gymnastics because that's where her father put her and her mother was overseas and unable to say 'no.' When she signed with TWU, it was Donna bringing in the balloons and party favors and all smiles because Rashonda's father is currently deployed.
"From January to June, my life revolves around her. Every other weekend, we're going somewhere," Donna said. "(TWU's) schedule is even worse. Their season is from January to May and there's a meet every weekend, whether it's in-state or out.
"That's why I've got this great video camera. After each meet, I put the video through a program and send it to him, so he gets to see everything even though he's not there. If there isn't a video waiting for him when he wakes up, we all hear about it."
Contact Kevin Posival at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7562.