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Santa Maria Sun / Sports Lead

The following article was posted on September 4th, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 26 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 14, Issue 26

Two Central Coast acrobatic gymnasts celebrate their win at nationals

Breezie Rayas of Nipomo and Erin Stipanov of Arroyo Grande garner gold


Watch a video of Breezie Rayas and Erin Stipanov perform their routine

Watch a video of the 2013 U.S. Acro-Championships Elite performance

Breezie Rayas, a 16-year-old Nipomo resident, and Erin Stipanov, a 9-year-old Arroyo Grande resident (center), recently won gold medals at the 2013 U.S. Acro-Championships in Louisville, Ky.

Superheroes in the making are perfecting the art of throwing human bodies through the air. In a sport where gymnasts gracefully climb one another, only the most dynamic of duos can climb among the elite.

Audra Gustin, head coach at Central Coast Gymnastics (CCG), said acrobatic gymnastics is a combo of tumbling, dance, and partner stunts performed to music on a 40-foot-by-40-foot spring floor. Engaging choreography in brilliant attire is part of this exciting gymnastics discipline. Athletes of all ages, abilities, and body types are needed for this sport. Younger, smaller athletes are typically on top, and stronger, taller athletes are needed as bases. Acrobatic gymnastics includes both men and women, ranging in age from 7 to 30.

Gustin said she moved from Missouri to California for the coaching position she now holds. She competed against Kristen Sanchez, who is her assistant coach at CCG. The two have been in countless competitions throughout their acrobatic careers. They agreed that while they’ve collected hundreds of medals, what remains with them most are the experiences and the relationships gained.

“Going to team trials; waiting for the news to see if we made it on the U.S. delegation Freedom Cup in Wisconsin to compete; and sitting on the edge of my seat at a banquet dinner, waiting and hoping my name would be called to go on,” Gustin said of her memorable experiences.

She still holds dear the team sweats and U.S.A. gymnastics jacket she earned from one of her greatest victories.

Of those who celebrated a victory in July at the 2013 U.S. Acro-Championships in Louisville, Ky., were two local young ladies: Breezie Rayas, a 16-year-old Nipomo resident, and Erin Stipanov, a 9-year-old Arroyo Grande resident. The pair’s hard work and dedication paid off when they were awarded level six gold medals at the nationals.

Rayas said as she stood on the stand, she felt relief knowing they could finally relax, take a breather, forget the routine, and shake off the nerves.

“Not only was I really proud of what Erin and I had accomplished, but I also felt sad and kind of bummed out,” Rayas said. “The second we got off the stand, we started talking about next season and who we would like to work with. It was really bittersweet, I guess.”

Coach Sanchez said when she was younger, she cried over being separated from partners. Spending so many days and hours together and then being separated felt like going through a break-up, she said.

“If one person is not doing well, the whole group is impacted.  I think that is one of the biggest things that builds the strong connection: realizing that one person’s success in the group means nothing. It is a group sport and we win together or lose together,” Sanchez said.

Rayas said you have to find ways to work together as a pair. It’s all about trust, teamwork, and patience.

“You really learn to push yourself. Seeing a 9-year-old do it, I realize, ‘she can do it; I need to be able to do it,’” she said. “I never knew a 9-year-old and 16-year-old could get along so well. I look out for her like she’s my little sister.”

The two acrobats agree that their success comes from working well together.

Stiponav said it’s less nerve-wracking going out on that huge floor with a partner, but there are times when she and Rayas argue: “Can you just catch me better, can you please be tighter?” she cited as an example.

Stiponav’s mother, Kristin, said she completely trusts Rayas to catch her daughter.

Rayas said it’s a huge confidence boost that Stivanov’s family trusts her to catch their daughter as she throws her in the air.

Kristin said the change in her daughter’s confidence has been huge since she took up acrobatics.

“She’s gone from this little girl who couldn’t order her own meal at a restaurant to someone who does a routine in front of all of these people,” Kristin said. “Her teacher at school has commented on the change. The poise she now possesses was not there before.”

Kristin said the most challenging things about having a child in acrobatics are the expense and the time commitment. There are gym fees, team fees, leotards, choreographing, and traveling. But the payoff is worth all of that to see her blossom.

Fierce dedication is required for any acrobatic duo or team if they are to succeed. According to, 30 hours per week of practice is required at the elite Olympic level. Gustin said her elite trio practiced for 16 hours per week. However, in the beginning stages, the training schedule for any gymnast varies from four to six hours per week.

Gustin said there are beginner levels, one through 10, and then passing onto elite. Tryouts are held in September at CCG, prior to the season’s start. At tryouts, athletes are placed in levels accordingly.

Acrobats are paired or put into a trio or larger groups, depending on the circumstances, skill levels, goals, and dedication of each gymnast. It’s not unusual to have a wide age gap between partners. Gustin said she pairs people based on personality, work ethic, gym hours, dedication, and goals.

Sanchez said there are endless goals acrobats set for themselves, and they get out what they put into it.

The main focus of the CCG coaches has been to train young athletes to do potentially dangerous feats in the safest way possible. With an estimated combined 30 years of experience, neither of the coaches has suffered a major injury.

Team tryouts happen Sept. 6 at Central Coast Gymnastics.

For more information, visit


Intern Tamara Rawson flips for fitness. Contact her at


IT'S SHOWTIME: Breezie Rayas and Erin Stipanov perform their routine at the U.S. Acro-Championships in Louisville, Ky. Video courtesy of Kristin Hammond.



CREAM OF THE CROP: The Elite group also performed at the 2013 U.S. Acrobatic Championships. Video by Arthur Davis III, courtesy of suelim2010 via



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