Zach Peters treated himself to a rare day off Friday, bypassing his 3½-hour practice to hang out with friends.
Gymnastics, after all, is about balance.
Any deserved “me” time the Center Grove High School junior treats himself to contrasts his routine of driving five days a week to InterActive Academy Inc. in Zionsville, where he trains.
That’s 50 minutes — minimum — in the car there, another 50 back to his Johnson County residence for a total weekly investment of approximately 27 hours.
Peters is unapologetic.
“Honestly, I’m always looking forward to each practice and maybe getting a new skill. Gymnastics teaches me so much. I just love competing and being part of it,” Peters said.
“I’ve been doing this for so long this is normal to me. But there are so many things I can still learn.”
Peters took part in the Junior Olympic Championships in Daytona Beach, Florida, in May, winning the vault competition for a third consecutive year. He placed sixth in floor exercise, ninth in still rings and 14th in all-around in Level 10 (15-year-old group).
The 5-foot-2, 120-pound dynamo established personal-best scores of 15.05 (vault) and 13.7 (rings).
InterActive boys coach Gene Watson has been closely monitoring Peters’ gymnastics progress for over seven years.
The association that has been mutually beneficial.
“Zach is a great kid. The love he has for gymnastics comes from his success. You put the time in, the energy in, he’s just a little powerhouse. It’s definitely a sport he can excel in,” Watson said.
“His vault is just outstanding. He’s a three-time national champion, which is just unheard of. Zach is fast, he’s powerful and he puts in the time in the gym.”
With gymnastics, there are always buts. Sustained pursuit of perfection in technique, timing and score guarantees it.
Watson said believes enhanced flexibility in Peters’ shoulders could take him to even greater heights; proximity is also something of an issue given his distance from where he trains.
One could point to the latter as the reason he trains five days weekly as opposed to six like the majority of his InterActive Academy teammates.
Not true, Peters said.
“With me I think it’s important to get some time for yourself. And your body needs some time to rest. When I get there I’m never too tired not to work. My coach understands how hard I work when I’m there,” he said.
Case in point: After not attending practice Friday, Peters put in a 6½-hour workload Saturday, training from 9 a.m. to noon and again from 1:30 to 5 p.m.
Peters, who began taking tumbling classes at age 5, hopes to one day parlay his years of dedication into a men’s collegiate gymnastics scholarship.
Though vault might currently be his best event, floor is his favorite.
“Growing up I would always watch floor and be amazed by it. It’s something I just can’t describe,” he said.
Peters realizes someday knowing the thrill of wearing his country’s colors at an Olympic Games is a long-shot.
However, he’s not afraid to dream.
By the time the 2020 Games in Tokyo get under way Peters will be 21. He strongly feels he’ll be at his peak physically four years later when the 2024 Games take place at a yet-to-be-named location.
Whether this materializes or not, the man coaching Peters admires what’s been accomplished to this point even though it’s often in the shadow of higher-profile teammates.
“The guy doesn’t get the recognition he deserves,” Watson said.
THE PETERS FILE
Name: Zach Peters
High school: Center Grove
Family: Parents, Jeff and Kim; brother, Sean, 20; sister, Genna, 12
Favorite food: Pasta
Favorite movie: “Big Hero 6”
Favorite team: University of Michigan men’s gymnastics