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New Haven gymnast uses fear to win national title

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Roller claimed bars championship last weekend

Thursday, May 9, 2013 - 5:45 am

At any skill level, gymnastics is about fear. It's about learning to control it, accept it and eventually use it.

New Haven High School freshman Deni Roller has learned about fear enough to become a national champion. Roller, 14, won the bars and finished third in the all-around competition last weekend at the USA Gymnastics Eastern National Championships in Battle Creek, Mich. It was the first trip to nationals at the Level 9 skill level for Roller, who trains with the Set 10 club out of More Than Gymnastics.

``I was nervous, but I was more excited than anything,'' she said. ``I knew I had made it, this was the highest meet I could get to and I didn't have to prove myself any more.''

Roller won the bars competition with a 9.6 score, finished second on the beam with a 9.3 and was third in the all-around with a 37.25. The buzz of what she accomplished hasn't totally sunk in yet.

She's been competing in gymnastics for seven years, first in Virginia and then in Florida. Roller and her family moved to New Haven 16 months ago. It only took her a couple weeks to fit in with her new club where she trains five days a week for four hours at a time.

Now coached by Mike Comeau and Kristen Hines, Roller has always loved gymnastics.

``When I first started, I loved it because it got to flip around and have fun and play with friends,'' she said. ``As it got more serious, the team became like my family and I saw them more than I did my regular family. The challenge that it gave me made it fun.''

Gymnastics is a family effort as Roller's mother, two aunts, an uncle and grandparents all help get her to training on time. Then it's up to her to handle the fear and improve.

``It all depends on me and when I choose to get over the fear and go,'' she said about learning new tricks. ``Normally, it's not to long. I end up making myself do it. You just have to want to learn a new skill so bad that your desire to get better helps you to get through it.''