Camden’s Birt making a name for herself

Love Birt, from Camden, was named to the USA Junior National Gymnastic Team in February. USA Gymnastics/Allison Cheng

CAMDEN — Love Birt was maybe 11 the first time she performed in a large arena.

The youngster from Camden was competing at the U.S. Championships in gymnastics in Anaheim, Calif.

Birt quickly realized she was performing on a big stage.

“I remember doing my warmup and just focusing on what I was doing,” said Birt. “When I was looking up at the stands, it just kept filling up with more and more people — which was pretty cool.

“I was very nervous but I was also so young. I was just there to have fun. There wasn’t much pressure on me at that time.”

In the three years since then, though, the pressure on Birt has only gone up. But, then again, she’s also gotten a lot more comfortable about dealing with big moments.

Still just 14, Birt is on a track with the top gymnasts in the country.

In February, the former Caesar Rodney School District student was named to the USA Women’s Junior Gymnastics team. She’s one of only 11 gymnasts on the Junior roster and one of only 26 competitors on the two official national squads altogether.

Birt found out she made the team after taking part in a camp at the national training center in Indianapolis.

She and the other new team members were presented with plaques and then their official USA team gear.

“It was really amazing just because it was like all of my hard work was finally paying off and it was finally being recognized,” said the 4-foot-11 Birt.

“It teaches me dedication and hard work,” she said about being a gymnast. “And it’s a lot of fun. Just being able to do everything that I love every day, I’m really grateful for.”

To be sure, Birt has sacrificed a lot to make it even just this far.

She was four when she first started learning the sport at Dover’s Stick It Gymnastics. At seven, she was put on an elite path and began training at First State Gymnastics in Newark.

Birt’s mom, Rachel, said her daughter just seemed to take to the sport right from the beginning.

“She took off,” said Rachel. “It’s something she skyrocketed with.

“The first time I took her there, they climbed up a rope. I remember her being two months shy of five, climbing all the way to the top of a three-story building. I was just like, ‘Who taught her to do that?’ She was a very brave kid — very independent — from a very young age.”

Later, the family was trying to decide whether to move Love up to elite status. Rachel Birt remembers being at an event where Morgan Hurd was competing.

Hurd, from Middletown, also trains at First State under coach Slava Glazounov. She is a member of the USA Senior team.

“She (Love) didn’t want to leave until she saw Morgan compete at a Level 10,” said Rachel. “She said, ‘OK, let’s do it.’ We took her up, Slava saw her and he immediately said, ‘Yep, we’d like to have her home-schooled. We’d like here from 9 until 6:30 every day.’ She’s been doing that since she was seven.”

Birt, who went to first grade at CR’s W.B. Simpson Elementary, now takes her academic classes year-round at First State as part of an NCAA-approved online school.

As far as competing, Birt has traveled to events in places like Texas, Arizona, California and the Bahamas. At 11, she was the youngest — and one of the smallest — competitors at the U.S. Championships.

As with other top-flight athletic competitors, Birt’s training schedule keeps her from living the life of a typical teenager.

“She leaves the house every morning at 7:31 and gets home at like 7:45,” said her mother, who also has a son named Nolan. “Her home hours are not a lot. She obviously does not have a lot of the normal teenage experiences as far as school events and stuff like that. She’s definitely making sacrifices.

“It makes it kind of tough when they (her gymnast friends) all want to get together because people come to the gym from New Jersey, Maryland and Pennsylvania. On the weekends we don’t always feel like driving.

“She is committed,” Rachel added. “We do not push her at all. In fact, my husband (Theodore) always has a joke when it’s been a rough day. He says, ‘You can always quit and play the flute.’ She is self-motivated. It is all her.

“We’re super proud of her. Very, very proud.”

“When I was younger, it was a little bit weird,” Birt said about her schedule. “It was kind of a hard change for me. But now it’s just normal. I really love it.”

Being part of the national team means that Birt may compete in international events — when the coronavirus pandemic is over, of course.

That idea is pretty exciting for Birt.

“That will be amazing if that ever happens,” she said. “Just being able to go compete somewhere for your country with ‘USA’ on your leotard and warmup is just amazing.”

But if the Olympics are in Birt’s future, it’s not something her family talks about. So few gymnasts make it that far and Birt is probably at least five years away from seriously competing for a spot on the U.S. team anyway.

“It is something that, obviously, is everybody who’s at the elite level’s greatest dream,” said Rachel. 

Rather, Birt thinks more about the chance of getting a college scholarship. Right now, she thinks she’d like to study physical therapy or something with orthopedics. 

“That (the Olympics) is not really in my mind,” said Birt. “My mind is just on what’s happening right now. Once that comes I guess that’ll be the new thing that I’m focusing on.”