MHS junior Dani Yamaura is The Valley Express Who’s That Bulldog? for the Lady Bulldogs gymnastics team. She is the daughter of Vince and Amy Yamaura.
Dani began gymnastics when she was three years old when her mom signed her up for the summer gymnastics recreation program in Milbank. “I remember some of my coaches were Courtney Trapp and Shelby Oliver, and I wore an American flag leotard and had short, curly hair.”
When Dani was in third grade, she joined the club team led by Amber Fraasch, head gymnastics coach for MHS, Amber Fraasch. “Back then, there were two groups — the Shooting Stars and the Northern Lights. Both of the teams competed in meets. There was also a pre-team that practiced and learned routines but didn’t compete.”
Dani was placed on the Shooting Stars team. “On that team, everyone completed everything,” she explained. “It was a fun way of getting us to compete. We all performed the same routines.”
As a seventh grader, Dani earned a spot on the balance beam on the MHS varsity team. She moved into the all-around competition as an eighth grader and has continued to perform in that event.
Beam, however, is Dani’s favorite event and the one she has excelled at. “Beam has been a highlight for me. Every single time you get up there you are so nervous, but you learn to block everything out and get in your little bubble and just focus. It feels so good when you hit a no-fall routine and hit all your connections and get a high score, it’s the best!”
“Most gymnasts don’t like beam because it makes them the most nervous,” she says, “but once I’m done with my routine, it’s such a relief. When I do a good job, I feel really good about the whole meet and its just sets up how the rest of the meet is going to go.”
This season, she experienced growth, not only in her beam routine, but in how she mentally handles the event. “This year, there’s been less pressure about just staying on. It’s been more about going big and giving it your all. This is Covid season, so we experimented with different stuff.”
Her highest score on beam is a 9.1. She says she discovered a trick. “When I’m getting ready to do a jump or something, I count an eight count in my head and then I just go. Whether I’m ready or not, I just go. Most of the time it works. It keeps me focused on the skill I’m doing and blocks everything else out. It also keeps me from getting into my own head. I only do this with beam.” Her next favorite event is the floor exercise in which she earned her highest score of 9.2.
She says former MHS gymnast Mackenzie Weinkauf has been the person who has been there for her and helped her throughout her career. “We were in Shooting Stars together. After that, we went to every practice together and did the off-season stuff together. So, she was my gymnastics person.”
Dani says she also really clicked with assistant coach Kelly Wollschlager. “She came from competing with a club and really gets down to business and makes you work. I need that. I so appreciate her. She really helps me with new skills, but most of all, she really helped me to gain confidence in myself this year and know I can do it.”
Dani’s had the privilege of having her mom, Amy, as a coach during her high school career. “She’s the coach that helps us look pretty — telling us to point our toes, straighten our legs, things like that. She is also the one who helps pick us up when we’ve had a bad day and tries to cheer us up and supports us. It’s fun to have her in the gym.”
Dani says she hopes her team can place in the top five at the state meet. She also will compete individually in all four events. “I think we have the ability to place in the top three, but we will have to hit our routines. We have to stay positive and not let one bad routine get us all down.”
Dani is also a football cheerleader and pole vaulter for the MHS track team. She plays the piano and the French horn and sings in the high school choir. In her free time, she enjoys spending time at the lake getting a tan, ice skating, eating pizza, driving around, and watching movies.