At age 7, Neil Damron began his athletic path toward becoming an Olympic-level gymnast.
He was exposed to the sport at a friend's birthday party and said he found the experience to be fun, positive and a good outlet for all his energy.
"I remember when Neil started," said his coach Jim Luttinger, of CNY Gymnastics Center in Shoppingtown Mall. "He's always had a love for the sport."
The Manlius Pebble Hill senior recently competed in his last meet, the Polar Bear Invitational Gymnastics Tournament, held annually at his home gym. He took first place in the all around as well as in four out of six events (floor exercises, rings, vault and high bar). He placed second in the pommel horse and parallel bars.
Damron, who's competed multiple times at state, regional and national levels, is a Level 10 gymnast, but says he hasn't given the Olympics much thought.
"I have always been focused on my immediate future when it comes to gymnastics," Damron said. "I want to be the best I can be, and where ever that takes me will make me happy."
As he preps for college, Damron still trains at CNY and teaches beginning gymnasts in his spare time.
Luttinger said he's a great role model to the younger kids because he's learned to use his time wisely, balancing school, his personal life and this "very demanding, time-consuming sport."
"Neil is a hard working, well mannered, scholar athlete," said Luttinger, noting his student, who maintains a high honor roll status, also enjoys challenging Model UN-style debates at school.
When asked what advice he would give to rising gymnasts like himself, Damron acknowledged the sweat, blood and tears that come with being a committed athlete. For instance, Luttinger recalled Damron having a painful knee condition that kept him from tumbling and vaulting for several years.