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Years of hard work do pay off, especially for local gymnast Kayla Gray. Fourteen years of gymnastics have earned Kayla a full scholarship to the University of New Hampshire, which has a Division I gymnastics program.

Kayla's gymnastics career began at the age of 3 at a small gym called Buffalo Turners. She later switched to Stumpf's and then Gleason's Gymnastics, where the gymnasts compete under the name Niagara Gymnastics. At Niagara, Kayla achieved the highest ranking in competitive gymnastics, Level 10, and became the national champion on the balance beam at that level in 2008.

As Kayla moved into her junior year of high school, she began considering her college options.

"I began checking out the teams' websites and sending e-mails to coaches during the beginning of my junior year," Kayla said. "I ended up going on five college visits to Ohio State, Michigan State, Maryland, Pittsburgh and New Hampshire. But by the time I went to UNH, it was an easy decision, and I just had a feeling it was the college for me."

Kayla, 17, who is home-schooled, needed to make a name for herself in the world of college gymnastics.

"My website and YouTube page definitely helped in sharing my gymnastics with all of the colleges," she said. "A lot of e-mails were sent and videos made!"

Kayla's gymnastics caught the eye of the coaches at the University of New Hampshire. After the coaches became more familiar with her, they made a verbal commitment for a full scholarship.

"After the coach offered me a verbal commitment, I took a little time to sit down and think about it," Kayla recalled. "I knew how important of a decision this was. After making many pros/cons lists, I noticed that the pros greatly outweighed the cons, and I called the coach and accepted the verbal offer in February 2009."

Although Kayla was nervous about making her decision, she knew that UNH was right for her.

"I made a big deal out of accepting the offer," Kayla laughed, "but I felt so relieved and confident about my decision once I hung up the phone. When I was finally able to sign my national letter of intent in November 2010, any nerves were fully replaced by feelings of excitement and happiness."

Kayla was impressed with the UNH team's performance at meets.

"By comparing UNH's home meets to other colleges,' I realized that they are such a positive, determined team that never gives up and has a lot of fun. I'm planning on going to watch at least one home meet this coming season, possibly in February," Kayla said.

However, the gymnastics team was not the only reason that Kayla chose New Hampshire. The feeling of safety on campus, as well as the campus size, played major roles.

"The campus is the perfect size for me -- not too big, not too small -- and I always felt very safe and comfortable on my visits," Kayla said. "I can easily picture myself learning in the classrooms, studying in the library and hanging out in the dorms."

Kayla is optimistic about her future.

"The coaches and gymnasts are wonderful, and I feel like I've already become a part of the team," she said. "And while all of the girls on the team are successful in the gym, they are also successful in the classroom, and I think it's very important to have that balance."

Joining the New Hampshire team will mean plenty of hard work and sacrifice, along with many hours in the gym each day. However, Kayla is ready for the work and is even looking forward to it.

"During the competition season, the team usually practices four times per week. During the preseason, though, training is longer and slightly more intense," she said.

From beginning gymnastics at age 3 to becoming a national champion to receiving a full Division I scholarship, Kayla's gymnastics career has been impressive, and she is an inspiration to young gymnasts, especially those looking for Division I scholarships. Her advice to those gymnasts?

"I think it is important to begin making a list of schools that you have an interest in during your sophomore year," she said. "It would be beneficial to create a YouTube channel or put together a DVD of some competition or practice footage that shows off your gymnastics. It is really important to send e-mails to college coaches and set up some dates for visiting the school.

"But I think the most important advice I can give, though, is to never feel discouraged or disappointed, because there are usually going to be some setbacks. But if you continue to stay determined and optimistic, everything will be much easier and hopefully bring happy results."

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Allison Franz is a freshman at Sacred Heart Academy.