El Cajon’s Robert Rutherford headed to 2014 Men’s Jr. Olympic National Championships in Long Beach

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He started doing backhand springs at the age of 5 in his backyard in Tennessee, but did not know how he knew to do it. He just did it. This was the beginning of a lifetime of gymnastics training for Robert Rutherford, 18, of El Cajon. His parents put him into gymnastics training, but it was disrupted when they moved to Mississippi, so he took up karate. Moving to Southern California at 13, Rutherford began his gymnastics training once again and it has paid off for this El Cajon Valley graduate and now freshman at SDSU.

He started doing backhand springs at the age of 5 in his backyard in Tennessee, but did not know how he knew to do it. He just did it. This was the beginning of a lifetime of gymnastics training for Robert Rutherford, 18, of El Cajon. His parents put him into gymnastics training, but it was disrupted when they moved to Mississippi, so he took up karate. Moving to Southern California at 13, Rutherford began his gymnastics training once again and it has paid off for this El Cajon Valley graduate and now freshman at SDSU.

This weekend, Rutherford will compete in the 2014 Men’s Jr. Olympic National Championships in Long Beach in a five-day event from May 7-11 as an all around gymnast. Last year, at the same nationals, Rutherford made it to the event finals landing in the top 20 out of more than 500 men from across the U.S. This year, the event is drawing more than 750 athletes between the ages of 11 and 18.

As an all around gymnast, Rutherford will compete in the floor routine, pommel horse, rings, vault, parallel bars and high bars. He is a one-man team, competing with other gymnast across the nation in his division.

“My favorite is the floor routine,” he said. “I like being dizzy. It’s a great feeling and I really excel in it. I like using my punching skills and love tumbling. For me, it’s the best.”

Rutherford has trained with head coach and program coordinator Rey Acacio at the Toby Wells YMCA for six years. Acacio said he was fortunate to work with Rutherford, and his prior training in Tennessee was of benefit to both of them.

“Bobby has grown tremendously,” said Acacio. “Not only as an athlete, but as an individual. He is driven and I never have to worry about him not doing an assignment. Given the fact that he is so self-driven he accomplishes his goals much faster than other students.”

Rutherford said Acacio is more of a father figure than a coach.

“He’s a really good coach and I love him a lot,” he said. “He’s taught me so many things. How to be a coach and how to excel in school.”

Acacio said this event is where the best of the best meet and compete and that there is no room for error.

“Either you stick it or you go home,” he said. “It can be nerve racking and tedious, that is just part of gymnastics. One thing with Bobby and all my athletes, I train them to not only be physically ready for competitions, but mentally prepared as well. If he does well, he qualifies for event finals. That’s our goal. I don’t focus on first, second or third place. It’s about being your personal best. Our goal is for him to maintain his status this year and go on to do even better.”

Jerry Donahue, assistant coach, said his background is as a national judge and he is trying to help Rutherford make his routines most efficient.

“I help him make his routines more efficient to help maximize his score,” he said. “Gymnastics is a sport of doing routines with virtuosity and if you do too much difficulty as a competitor, it can hurt the score. We try to make it explosive with amplitude and good execution. I use my judging experience to help him hone down the best score and make him a better athlete.”

Rutherford is on the Dean’s List at SDSU working on two majors—Television Film Media with an emphasis on Production and Theatre Arts with an emphasis in Design and Technology for Theatre. He said he is possible adding a minor in Dance.

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