Magherafelt schoolboy Jack Eakin, who took up gymnastics just over a year ago, is now Irish National Champion and has the Olympics in his sights.
Whilst most nine-year old boys and girls will have spent their mid-term Halloween break from school filling up on sweets and trick or treating, Jack Eakin - who originally hails from Mosside and now lives in Magherafelt - will no doubt be maintaining his strict diet and exercise regimen in the lead up to the British Gymnastic Championships, which will see him and his two team mates representing Northern Ireland from November 3-5.
This marks a busy couple of months for Jack, who moved to the local area last year, as he was also recently celebrated in a Mid Ulster Council civic awards ceremony which recognised his outstanding achievements.
The budding young athlete also travelled to London recently to take part in the London Open, which saw Jack compete against some of the top gymnasts in Britain. Despite competing against athletes who have trained for years, Jack came home with an impressive three medals in floor, parallel bars and the vault.
In addition to these accolades, Jack was delighted when he was called up to the Olympic Start Squad for Ireland recently.
It followed his show stopping performance at the Irish National Champions in Dublin this May, which saw Jack bring home a staggering total of five gold and two silver medals, and take the crown of Irish National Champion.
But Jack’s astronomical success has certainly come as a shock for the family, as mum Kerry explains: “This past year has been the biggest whirlwind for us as Jack only began this journey a little over one year ago! Despite this, Jack competes at Elite level 1 which is the highest level any gymnast can compete at - there are only 50 in the UK and Ireland at his age.
“We had no idea he was this talented, I cannot even begin to express how proud we are of him. When Jack won all of his medals in May, we were literally astounded. It all started just because Jack said one day he wanted to take up gymnastics, so we took him to a local group in Coleraine.”
Coaches quickly realised Jack’s potential. “He went to Sika gymnastics for a few months before we moved and Mary McGoldrick arranged his trial in Salto as they offered men’s artistic gymnasts.
“He attended there for seven months and that was when coaches came to me and said how talented they thought Jack truly was. They increased his training days again from four days a week to five, and started him on the Elite pathway.
“After a while we decided to move him to Rathgael Gymnastics in Bangor as this was the club where high performance coach Luke Carson was based. I wrote to him not daring to believe we might have even a small chance of getting into his club - but he already knew all about Jack,” Kerry laughs, “So then it went up yet again to six days a week training!”
Jack competes with Rhys Joshua McClenaghan from Co Down, who at just 18 has already established his name in the history books of the sport, having become the first Irish Gymnast to win a World Cup gold on the Pommel Horse when he was just 17 in May at the World Cup in Croatia. The fellow Rathgael GC member saw off seven competitors in the final, with a score of 14.267.
“It is incredible for Jack to have someone like Rhys to look up to,” Kerry explains, “It gives them an insight into what the future could hold for them, and something to aspire to.”
Jack, who uses his one day off training per week to catch up on homework adds: “Sometimes it all feels a bit demanding - but I just get over it! This is what I want to do. I have dreams of being an Olympic Champion in 2028, so being in the Start Squad is an amazing achievement in itself and will give me a huge advantage.
“My mum and dad and I have designed a board so I can keep all my medals in my bedroom,” he adds excitedly. “It makes me feel very accomplished and fills me with pride that I can compete at his level.I was very active when I was younger, and I just started bouncing about - and thought I would give gymnastics a shot and was hoping it would go well.
“Now I aim to be in the Olympics in 2028 - that’s my goal.” Mum Kerry adds, “I am just so proud of Jack, when we were at the Mid Ulster awards it was the first time it really hit home for me, hearing someone else talk about your son that way made me suddenly realise, this is really happening! It made me very emotional.
“Jack leaves for school at 8.30am and doesn’t return home from training until 9.30pm, eating his dinner in the car on the way to gymnastics. He is just nine years old and yet he is so disciplined. He is so focused because this is what he wants to do, even his coaches say he is well beyond his years!
“It is just unreal, the things that he can do. We are just so lucky we happened to find the right sport for him - thankfully.
“Someone once said to me that lots of children are really gifted, but they go through life and never find what that is. It was just absolute luck that we found it.
“It is all just so overwhelming.”