There are some who argue the validity of baton twirling as a sport.
Emily Reyer is quick to tell them it’s not only a sport, but one of the toughest out there.
“One of my friends got a couple of concussions, and that’s not rare,” she said. “I’ve seen a girl who did a higher spin trick and it came down on her eyebrow and she had to get stitches on her eyelid.”
Reyer, 13, is part of a minority in Washington — an estimated 50 to 75 kids — who participate in competitive baton twirling. It is a sport that involves aspects of dance, ballet and gymnastics. Over the past four years she has won four state titles in dance twirling and four state titles in two-baton twirling. This year, she not only won the junior two-baton title, but took home the title of grand champion for all age groups.
While many get involved in twirling because of family tradition, Reyer’s path into the sport was a little different. At age 7, her family moved to Sammamish from Fall City. Looking for something for her daughter to do, Karen Reyer went out on a whim and enrolled Emily in an after-school twirling class at the Redmond Parks and Recreation Department.
“It seemed like a fun event to do,” Karen said. “While she might not have been the most coordinated little girl, I knew she was competitive enough.”
Quite a few bumps and bruises later, Emily started to develop a true passion for her new sport.
“It’s so different,” she said. “Most people don’t hear about it and then I show them what I can do and … they are usually shocked from what I can do. It’s very unique.”
Not only was her love for the new sport taking off, but she was getting good at it — real good. She started to combine choreography with hand-eye coordination, nailing moves like the toss walk over and the toss illusion.
“A lot of it was just hard work,” said Kathy Forsythe, Emily’s personal coach. “Emily’s blessed with a pretty limber body. She is able to do those kinds of things easily, things where she has to move and kick come easier to her.”
Forsythe taught the first class Emily participated in and has worked with her since. A former baton twirler at the University of Washington, Forsythe has coached several national and world champions and continues to travel the world to teach. She said she sees many special characteristics in Emily, noting her dedication has been key.
“For her to have chosen this during this time when kids would rather hang out at the mall, I think really shows a lot for her upbringing and her family’s willingness to support,” Forsythe said.
Emily, who will be an eighth grader at the Environmental and Adventure School at Kirkland’s Finn Hill Junior High School, said she practices daily. She works out with Forsythe once a week and over the last two years has participated as a part of a California-based eight-girl twirling team, Encore. The commitment requires her to fly to Sacramento one-to-two weekends a month.
“Practices can be rough, but it usually is really worth it. Last year when we won the really huge title that was just so much fun,” Emily said, referring to the Encore’s 2007 National team championship.
Emily is hoping to qualify for the International Championships, which will take place in Australia this year.
With all her recent success, Emily isn’t sure where baton twirling will take her. She said she would like to try out for the world team. College is also a possibility.
“I think I can make it pretty far,” she said. “It would be fun to do it in college, go to all the games with the football team.”
“We figure we’re paying the college tuition now with all the gym fees, coaching fees, costumes, travel, so when she gets to college we’ll be done because she’ll have a full-ride,” she joked.
For more information on twirling and updated results on the national competition go to www.ustwirling.com/events/nationals.