Riley Allen is the only student-athlete representing Burrillville High School when the R.I. Interscholastic League conducts gymnastics meets.
A sophomore, Allen has been involved in gymnastics for as long as she can remember. In her younger days, she participated in ballet, ice skating, and cross-country. Over the past few years, Allen has pushed all her chips to the center of the table concerning events involving bars, beams, and floor exercises.
“I’ve definitely put in the time … practicing four days a week, sometimes five, for three hours at a clip,” said Allen. “Gymnastics is more mental than physical. When you’re on the beam, it’s very hard to get yourself to do something when your body knows you can do it. There’s always the risk of getting hurt.”
Passion and devotion to the sport aside, Allen walks around with a proverbial badge of honor concerning her preferred discipline and the school she attends. Per rihssports.com, one has to go back to the 1985-86 school year to find the last time Burrillville fielded a gymnastics team.
“It’s cool because it’s just me,” said Allen, “but I’ve been able to connect with the other girls when we have meets.”
What Allen is alluding to is characteristics that have come to resemble a close-knit sorority. She’s allowed to hitch her wagon to a co-op team that features gymnasts from Toll Gate and Pilgrim. While technically not a scorer for the Warwick squad, Allen has come to embrace them, and the support is reciprocated whenever it’s her turn to perform.
“They cheer for me and I cheer for them,” said Allen. “I guess you can say they’re my teammates.”
The person who has helped Allen reach Level 8 club status among the gymnastics community – side note: that’s considered extraordinary – is no stranger to success at the RIIL level. Before opening the doors to Cumberland-based Olympia Gymnastics, where Allen beelines each day when school lets out, is Cathy Vachon. In the early 2000s, Vachon served as the head gymnastics coach at La Salle Academy. The unquestioned highlight of her 11-year tenure was leading the Rams to 10 consecutive state championships.
The vibe that Allen gets each time she walks into Olympia and receives instruction from Coach Vachon and her daughter Samantha Kent, who competed in gymnastics at Ohio State, only fuels her desire to keep improving and getting better. Vachon’s positive influence on Allen has reached the point where the teenager wanted to immerse herself even deeper into the facility where she trains.
“I even got a job [at Olympia Gymnastics] as an instructor for preschoolers and ages 6-10,” said Allen. “I can relate to what my coaches are feeling … things that I wouldn’t have understood before I had my job.”
If Allen could give the next wave of hopefuls who frequent Olympia one piece of advice, it would be the following: “You have to work hard at it. No one can get up on a four-inch beam and do a bunch of flips and land perfectly. You have to train if you want to be good and get there.”
Last year represented Allen’s top moment in conjunction with her state championship-winning Level 8 club team based out of Olympia Gymnastics. The victory enabled her to participate in a regional meet that featured competitors from all six New England states, New York and Pennsylvania. She ended up taking second place in the floor exercise.
“I was pretty surprised. I was only a freshman,” she said with a smile.
Noted Coach Vachon, “Riley has always been a driven person. She works hard at every event and is great to coach. She’s a great role model and team leader. Not only is she an amazing gymnast but an amazing coach.”
Allen does have a goal that she hopes to achieve by the time she graduates from Burrillville in a few years. She doesn’t have far to look for an incentive. Each time she walks into the school’s Bronco Dome, she looks up and sees her father’s name with the designation that Brian Allen was a state wrestling champ in the 119-pound weight class in 1987. Brian Allen is currently in his 23rd season as the associate head coach of the Johnson & Wales University wrestling program.
“Hopefully my name can be on a banner just like my father,” said Riley Allen. “Not many people do gymnastics in the school.”
A banner suspended aloft at Burrillville High for Riley Allen, the Lone Gymnastics Wolf seems so appropriate.