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Olympian Spring Visits Old Gym

At Capital Gymnastics, Justin Spring, 24, takes questions from eager, younger audience.

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Burke native Justin Spring dropped by Capital Gymnastics on Tuesday to sign autographs and participate in a question and answer session at the gym where he trained for 13 years.

It was a situation loaded with irony. As Olympic gymnast Justin Spring answered youngsters’ questions Tuesday at Capital Gymnastics in Burke, the occasional thumping, gymnastic outburst could be heard, proving yet again that some children just can’t sit still.

For Spring, he’s used to it. At age 5, he began training at Capital Gymnastics and during that time became one of the most notorious headaches for Barry Neff, who has owned the gym since 1990.

While Spring was that rambunctious child that no one could seem to settle down, he was also that one destined for bigger and better things.

After competing on the bronze medal-winning men’s gymnastics team during the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, Spring offered a question and answer session and then signed autographs at the gym where he trained for 13 years.

“I spent my whole life training for that one moment,” said Spring, 24, a graduate of Lake Braddock Secondary School. “It’s cool to come back and see the people that helped me along the way and see the place that kind of jump started my career.”

<b>FOR THE PAST MONTH</b>, Spring has been crisscrossing the country with the 2008 Tour of Gymnastics Superstars, an event featuring fellow Olympians Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson, as well as teammates Jonathan Horton and Joseph Hagerty.

Spring and Co. will visit the Verizon Center on Oct. 30, but this sudden trip home came about because of a three-day break and a trip from North Carolina to Philadelphia.

Realizing that the bus had to drive past his parents’ new house along Interstate 95 in Lorton, Spring, impulsively, asked if the bus driver could just drop him off. As the bus chugged along through Fredericksburg, Spring, impulsively again, asked Horton and Hagerty if they’d like to stop with him.

“Ain’t much else to do,” Horton cracked at the time.

On the tour, Spring, Horton and Hagerty had been wearing down. With five shows in five nights, they had conquered one of the tougher stretches during the three-month run. As seemingly perfect as the Beijing Games were, Spring’s life after has become somewhat of a grind.

“I’ve been home literally six days in the past three months,” said Spring, who has a house in Champagne, Ill., near where he went to school at the University of Illinois. “We’ve been living out of two bags and on a bus the majority of the time.

“Sometimes, we’re in a city for 18 hours. We get in about 6 a.m., finish up sleeping, and you have the show at 5 p.m. Then you hop on the bus an hour after the show is done to get to the next city.”

<b>BUT SPRING</b> loves it. He always has. Since he started at Capital Gymnastics, Spring has wanted to do nothing but bounce around, run, jump and just basically let off some energy.

Starting at age five, he began training with Steve Sheinman, who didn’t hesitate to sit Spring down in the facility’s office as a time out of sorts. After fulfilling his media obligations Tuesday, Spring even asked Neff what had happened to the chair where he used to sit.

“We’re over here doing pommel horse and he’s over there diving off the rings,” Neff joked. “You’d sit down and you’d talk to him and he’d say, ‘I got it, I got it,’ and 20 minutes later he’d be out doing the same thing.”

“The kid just hasn’t grown up. He’s still the same hyper, energetic kid that he’s always been,” said Spring’s next coach, Carlos Vasquez, who typically works with Capital’s older male gymnasts.

Spring began to work with Vasquez at 12 and started to channel that abundance of energy.

At Lake Braddock, Spring won the all-around national championship as a senior and became a 12-time All-American and the 2006 Big Ten Gymnast of the Year at the University of Illinois, where he now serves as an assistant coach.

But even with his developing success, injuries soon became a major factor. After enduring shoulder, knee and a pair of ankle surgeries within an 11-month window prior to the Olympic Trials, Spring’s availability for Beijing started to become a question mark.

Still, he pressed on. Spring rehabbed enough to make the team, an experience that led to his most simple and profound advice of the evening.

“It sounds so cliché, but never giving up works,” Spring said. “It really does work. If you really want to accomplish your goals, you can. You’re going to have setbacks. Nothing’s going to fall in your lap, but if you really want something, you can go out and accomplish it.”