As far as Caela Flake is concerned, no one has to give her a pep talk on what it means to persevere through life’s toughest of obstacles.
By and large, this 17-year-old Arlington High gymnast had learned the significance of weathering what she described as seemingly insurmountable challenges a little more than two years ago.
For instance, Caela’s father, Derek Flake, was the breadwinner of their family and, along with his wife, Sherita, had done a masterful job of seeing that their children lived comfortably in their Northeast Shelby County home and made wise decisions.
Unfortunately for Caela, her father’s job was eliminated in December 2012, news that ultimately gave way to assortment of challenges for the rising young gymnast.
For starters, Caela, unlike in previous years, wasn’t able to train consistently for nearly a two-year stretch because of the financial adversities that had plagued her family during the time. But just as she had done in the various competitions in gymnasiums throughout the country, she deemed it necessary to, as she tells it, “make lemonade out of lemons.”
“I trained at home on my balance beam that my great grandmother bought me for my ninth birthday and I did some bar drills on the floor bar that my parents bought me,” Caela told MemphiSport during a recent interview. “I conditioned by running outside, stretching at home, and doing other exercises at home.”
That’s not all this vibrant, think-outside-the-box athlete had done to upgrade her mechanics.
“I even made a vault table out of the couch,” Caela explained. “I was determined not to lose skills. When my parents could finally afford to send me back to gymnastics, I had not lost that many skills. Therefore, the colleges would be gaining an athlete who knows how to train independently in under ideal circumstances.”
Now a junior campaign at Arlington, Caela doesn’t shy away from the notion that because she has trained just as intensely as many of her peers on the gymnastics circuit, she is destined to fulfill her dream of earning an athletic scholarship in the sport.
“I would like (college recruiters) to know that I am one of the most determined and dedicated kids they’ll ever meet,” Caela said. “I believe that whichever school I go to, I’ll make a good name for the school athletically and academically.”
To get a thorough understanding of why Caela is primed to seize a full-ride scholarship, look no further than how she’s going about emerging as one of the Mid-South finest young gymnast, who was christened the 2012 state champion in Tennessee after placing first in bars competition for the entire season?
According to Sherita Flake, her daughter first gained an admiration for gymnastics when she was six years old at the recommendation of her dance teacher, who said Caela had routinely become bored in dance class and, instead, began tumbling around on the canvas.
“We sought the best training she could get,” Sherita said. “We tried to make sure she was exposed to the best coaching possible.”
To the Flake’s credit, “the best” is what they ultimately acquired, considering they sent their daughter to Maryland to train with former Olympian Dominique Dawes, Caela’s grandest mentor.
The now-retired Dawes is widely remembered for being the first African-American woman to win an individual Olympic medal in artistic gymnastics and the first black person of any nationality or gender to win an Olympic gold medal in gymnastics. She is also one of only three female American gymnasts, along with Muriel Grossfeld and Linda Metheny-Mulvihill, to compete in three Olympics and was part of three Olympic medal-winning teams: Barcelona 1992 (bronze), Atlanta 1996 (gold), and Sydney 2000 (bronze).
Besides training with Dawes, Caela has met renowned Romanian gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi and has competed in various venues across the country, most notably Florida, Arkansas, Mississippi, Georgia, Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri, Alabama, Texas, and California.
In addition, this rising gymnast has participated in gymnastics camps at the University of Kentucky and the University of Alabama.
“We were on vacation in California and she met a coach and got him to open the gym for her so she could work out,” said Sherita, assessing her daughter’s intense work ethic on the circuit.
Not bad for a thriving athlete, who was born three weeks premature and was diagnosed with what doctors described as severe strabismus, a condition in which the eyes are not properly aligned with each other. Because of her unfavorable vision, she was delayed talking, walking, siting up alone, and crawling, among other things, her mother recalled.
“When she was six months old, we found out that her vision was bad and she began wearing glasses,” Sherita said. She had to go to physical therapy and occupational therapy. At that point, her doctors told us that she would be quirky walking and doing things that required gross motor skills. They also told us that she would not be able to run, tumble, or skip. We prayed about it and she has fully overcome that battle. Gymnastics is proof. Her gymnastics victories are proof.”
All of which is why Caela has learn the significance of what it means to persevere.
“I believe that these were signs from God that gymnastics is the sport for me because I am one in a million,” Caela said. I believe that whichever (college) I go to, God will help me blossom and carry me through and allow me to be a blessing wherever I go.”
That’s because she learned a valuable life lesson long ago — the lesson on how to make lemonade out of lemons.
Andre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson covers the NBA Southwest Division. To reach Johnson, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.