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Teen Paramus Gymnast Living Dream As Junior Olympic Athlete

Corinne Bunagan with coaches Craig and Jennifer Zappa visit Machu Picchu while Peru last October. Photo Credit: Contributed
Corinne Bunagan, 15 of Ramsey, has been training at ENA Paramus for more than a decade. Photo Credit: Cecilia Levine
Corinne, right, and best friend/fellow elite athlete Olivia Dunne. Photo Credit: Contributed

Corinne Bunagan has chalk on her hands and determination on her face.

She stands under the uneven bars at Eastern National Academy of Gymnastics in Paramus and inhales deeply.

Moments later, the 15-year-old junior olympian is catapulting her body between the bars, flipping and turning and holding positions at the top.

Bunagan sticks the landing and steps off the mat, making her way back over to the chalk.

It's clear she's not satisfied with her performance. And so she does it again. And again.

And again.

Three years ago, Bunagan switched from the public school system to home schooling to focus on her sport.

She is currently training for elite qualifiers and is among the top 50 best gymnastics her age in the U.S.

Although Bunagan makes it look easy, she insists that talent alone for her was not enough -- and never will be.

"I was always just an okay gymnast," the Ramsey native said in between training splits at her gym. "It's been a long road for me."

Bunagan says she has been a gymnast before she could even talk.

Her mom and grandfather built her a playground for her first birthday, when they realized she needed an outlet to satisfy her need to climb.

She started gymnastics when she was five years old, and Coach Craig Zappa says she's worked tirelessly ever since.

Bunagan is tenacious. She's diligent. She's humble.

But sometimes, she's her own worst enemy.

"The mental part of gymnastics is my biggest challenge -- the confidence," the teen explained. "I used to get new skills fast. Then they got harder, and I got down on myself.

"I've always had talent, but even the talent took hard work.

"I wasn't gifted."

There were days Bunagan felt like a failure. She questioned why something that came so naturally was suddenly so hard.

Bunagan didn't doubt that gymnastics was her destiny, but she knew that if she was going to make it further, she'd have to believe in herself -- no matter what.

One of her greatest supports has been fellow USA elite gymnast Olivia Dunne, who she trains with every day.

"We're different gymnasts with different mentalities," Bunagan said as Dunne worked quietly behind her.

"When I first started training here I was lonely. But she has become my best friend because she pushes me.

"It's healthy to have someone around you pushing you. I want to get to her level."

One by one, Bunagan began mastering new skills. She sets time aside every day to work one what challenges her.

And slowly, the hard work began paying off.

  • Last May, she became a national champion on beam taking second place in all-around at the Junior Olympic Championships in Indiana.
  • She was among eight gymnasts from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and Delaware who qualified for Region 7 All Star Squad, taking her to Peru last October.
  • Benagan received scholarship offers to UCLA and the University of Alabama -- she committed to Alabama last fall.

Next week, Bunagan will attend an elite qualifier in North Carolina, where her start value is nearly one point higher than it was a year ago.

But the teen's greatest victory has nothing to with titles, she said: "I don't struggle with confidence anymore."

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