For the first time in a decade, male Northland gymnasts will compete at senior level at the New Zealand Gymnastics nationals in October.
Whangārei's Brendan Marais, 14, and Ryan Townsend, 15, will take to the floor, pommel horse, vault, rings, high bar and parallel bars at the nationals at Trusts Arena in Auckland from October 2-5 after they recently qualified for the competition.
Both students of Whangārei Boys' High School, Ryan beat the nationals qualifying score of 63 in June with a 66 at a Northland competition before he scored a coveted 70 to win level seven (first senior level) at the Auckland Manukau Championships on August 3-4.
Brendan also achieved a 66 at the August competition in Auckland as his seventh-placed finish earned him a trip to the nationals. A gymnast's scores are averaged from their performances across the six disciplines.
It was 2009 when Northland last had male athletes attend nationals. In that time, nine female gymnasts have achieved the feat before Ryan and Brendan broke the sequence.
While the enormity of their achievements was still setting in for the young gymnasts, Brendan said he was glad to share the experience with a training and competing partner in Ryan.
"There have been a few years when it has just been yourself moving up the levels, so it's good to have someone going through the same thing that you're going through."
Both started the sport at about age 5 but were in their first year of competing at the same level after many years of training alongside each other.
Ryan, who had just perfected a tricky yet flashy double back somersault dismount from the high bar, said it was their never-say-die attitude which made the pair good gymnasts.
"It's all about the headspace you have, not letting things get to you if it doesn't work," he said.
Brendan echoed these sentiments and explained how he had thrown up before a competition only to find a new headspace and pull through with a respectable score.
Much of Ryan and Brendan's achievements come down to their training at Whangārei's Trigg Stadium, the home of the Whangārei Academy of Gymnastics.
The pair put in about 16 hours of training each per week but as Brendan said, their passion for the sport was clear.
"It's like a second home, you can't really leave it."
To compete regularly on the national gymnastics circuit required strong commitment. The pair had travelled to four away competitions this year, including to Marlborough to gain the necessary experience.
Ryan's mother Gail Townsend has been coaching the pair for about nine years and was amazed to see how well the boys had achieved with it being her first year coaching at a senior level.
"It's been quite a steep learning curve for me so to have them come through and qualify for nationals and making so much progress is really cool," she said.
"Going to senior levels, they design their own routines as opposed to set routines so they've got to hit all the right skills and combinations."
Gail said the focus now was to manage any injuries over the remaining months before nationals and build on newly acquired skills.
With money a big factor in a less popular sport, Gail was hesitant to suggest how far Ryan and Brendan could go in gymnastics, but she said there was no telling what their determination could achieve.
"It's a tough sport so it's difficult to predict that sort of thing but at this stage they are passionate, they are progressing and they just want to keep going and get better, so who knows?"
Northland athletes and coaches selected for the national championships:
MAG (Men's Artistic Gymnastics):
Level 4 - Gareth Ferguson (WAGs - Whangārei Academy of Gymnastics)
Level 5 - Hayden Smith (WAGs) and Liam Townsend (WAGs)
Level 7 - Brendan Marais (WAGs) and Ryan Townsend (WAGs)
WAG (Women's Artistic Gymnastics):
Step 5 - Lily-Mae Smith (WAGs), Amy Collecutt (Fantastic Gymnastics), Katelyn Delemare (WAGs) and Keala Mann (WAGs)
Step 6 - Renee Pilon (Fantastic Gymnastics) and Karli Babe-Vercoe (WAGs)
Step 9 - Michelle Crawford (WAGs)
Possible inclusions: Step 5 - Anna Davison (Kerikeri), Ariah Croasdale (Fantastic Gymnastics)
Ben Hori-Elliott (WAGs)
Emily Dainty (WAGs)
Holly Fleming (WAGs)
Jared Moggach (WAGs)
Kendra Leathem (Active Attitude)
Stephanie Crocker (WAGs)
Tegan Verevis (WAGs)
Amy Collecutt (Fantastic Gymnastics)
Anya Sinclair (Active Attitude)
Caitlin Leathem (Active Attitude)
Ella Howie (Fantastic Gymnastics)
Hayley Shutte (Active Attitude)
Jessica Kalkhoven (Active Attitude)
Julia Wallace (Fantastic Gymnastics)
Jordyn Woodley (WAGs)
Nathaniel Aoina (WAGs)
Pippa Benton (Fantastic Gymnastics)
Renee Pilon (Fantastic Gymnastics)
Shelby Hoyle (WAGs)
Tasharna-Rose Keogh (Active Attitude)
Annie Prout (Tumbling)
Gail Townsend (MAG)
Hannah Prout (WAG, Tumbling)
Marama Crocker (Trampoline, DMT)
Vicki Macdonald (WAG, Tumbling)