Nicole Medvitz's routine is anything but routine. When you're a young gymnast competing on the national level, life revolves around practice, competition and schoolwork. "It's an extreme balancing act," says Craig Zappa, Nicole's longtime coach and co-owner and director of ENA Gymnastics in Paramus. "It's balancing a full day of school and a full-time job on top of it."
For Nicole, her day begins like most other seniors at Paramus High School. Get up, get dressed, grab a bite to eat, grab the keys and drive to school. It's when classes end for the day that her path diverges. After a quick trip home to change, Nicole heads to ENA for 4-1/2 to 5 hours of practice, six days a week. This fall, her day off is Wednesday. Practice begins with 30 minutes of stretching and then on to each of the disciplines: vault, floor, bars and beam. There's also strength and conditioning work.
Back home around 8:30 p.m., she eats and then the honor student does homework, sometimes until midnight or 12:30 a.m. Then sleep, until the next morning when the routine begins again for Nicole, who has won two straight national Junior Olympic balance beam Level 10 titles. Only Elite, the competition level for Olympians, is higher.
"It's taught me time management," Nicole says. "I really like the hard work. It's what I want to do."
It's something Nicole has always done, according to her mom, Denise Medvitz. "She is so self-disciplined. I never have to get on her case," Denise says. "Gymnastics teaches them focus and time management."
Time management is vital not only to the success of young athletes, but also to the inner workings of that athlete's family. Until Nicole got her driver's license, Denise had to set her schedule around getting Nicole to and from practice, something she began in earnest at age 7 (she first took lessons at ENA at age 4). Denise works out of the house and that gives her the flexibility to be with Nicole when she travels to meets around the country from December through May. Meanwhile her husband, Bob, stays home with their two sons, 16-year-old David and 13-year-old Eric.
For the Medvitz family, Nicole's hard work, determination and ability have paid off in a tangible way. She has been awarded a scholarship to attend and compete for Penn State next fall. But Denise knows how lucky they are – the odds are against all but a few to get a free ride to college. "We never mentioned scholarships to her," Denise says. "We never wanted to feel disappointment if she didn't get it. We never wanted to put that pressure on her."
That doesn't mean the family and her coach didn't develop a plan for Nicole as she demonstrated the ability to compete at the national level – along the way she even bested Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas in a meet. By the time Nicole was 10, she was competing at the Nationals at Level 9. Even at that young age, gymnasts who show extraordinary potential and their parents must make a critical decision. For almost everyone who wants to pursue a shot at the Olympics, the choice involves home-schooling and, for most, moving away from home to work with one of the top coaches.
That was not a route Nicole and her family chose. Instead, they worked with her middle school and high school to make accommodations for the demands of the gymnastics schedule. "What helps is that most gymnasts have Type-A personalities and they won't accept failure at anything," Zappa says.
That's why early on Zappa "lays out exactly what's expected" of his gymnasts. "My very first meeting, I try to scare them out of it," he continues. "What it's going to cost money-wise and also time-wise. There's a lot of sacrifice families have to make. They have to have a full understanding."
Part of that sacrifice means not being able to have a "typical" teenage life. Nicole admits that her non-gymnastic friends don't always understand. "It's hard to explain to them," Nicole says. "They don't know how much time we put into it. How hard it is."
For Nicole, the benefits far outweigh what she's missed. She's traveled around the country and even overseas, competing in Switzerland last year. For the upcoming season, she's set her sights on another national title at the Junior Olympics and helping her ENA squad, of which she's the captain, to make it to the Nationals as well.
"It's who they are," Zappa says of Nicole and her teammates. "'I'm a gymnast.' That's her identity."
Nicole has won the balance beam at the Junior Olympic Nationals the past two years, scoring a 9.5 in 2012 and 9.7 in 2011. At Nationals in Hampton, Va., earlier this year, she also finished fourth in the uneven bars and 15th in the all-around. In 2011, at the Nationals in Long Beach, Calif., she was 17th in the all-around.
In her past 13 competitions, she has won the beam all but once, when she finished third. In those meets, she's also earned four all-around titles, while finishing second, five times and third, once.
Since reaching Level 10 in 2009, she has won thebeam three times. At the Level 10 State Championships this year, Nicole won gold for the beam and in the all-around.
As a Level 9 competitor, Nicole finished fourth all-around and first on beam at States and won beam at Regionals in 2006 and then took the State title in all-around, uneven bars and beam in 2007.
Nicole earned her first state titles at Level 7 in 2005, capturing uneven bars, balance beam, floor exercise and the all-around. In 2004, Nicole set a new state record while winning the beam at the Level 5 State Championships.