HANOVER COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — After years of hard work and dedication, some local young gymnasts traveled to Oklahoma City for the 2023 Elite Division National Championships this week.

Gaining national recognition as an athlete is a challenging feat. It takes hard work and a level of dedication that 13-year-old Jake Apelt cultivated throughout his life.

“I started ‘mommy and me’ classes when I was like one years old,” Apelt said.

Apelt started training when he was practically a baby, and he’s not alone. The number one ranked 12-year-old male gymnast in Virginia, Nelson Mokhtar, also qualified for the 2023 National Championships at the highest level — Junior Elite.

Mokhtar also got an early start in the sport.

“I was walking on my hands all around the house and my parents just suddenly decided to sign me up for like a rec class,” Mokhtar said.

Now, both boys are heading to the 2023 Elite Division National Championships, an elite competition for gymnasts between 12 and 18 years old.

Getting to this competition hasn’t been an easy road. The boys train constantly, while balancing school and trying to be normal kids.

“Six days a week, three hours a day,” Apelt described his weekly practice regime.

This isn’t Apelt’s first Nationals, but it is a first-time for Mokhtar and Level 10 competitor Jason Law. Law is 18 years old and will compete in a different division from the younger boys, but he was not expecting to compete at all after an injury had him off the mat for a large chunk of the season.

“It was a bit of a surprise that I actually qualified,” Law said.

Beyond this competition, the boys all have big plans for their futures. Mokhtar is aiming to land in the top five competitors this year, and he is already planning out the rest of his gymnastics future.

“I kind of want to make it up to where I can hopefully at least make it to the national team one of the following years,” Mokhtar said.

Apelt is also hoping for top marks in the Elite Division National Championships, as well as a bright future in his sport.

“Obviously the national team is like, the dream, but I’d be happy with top ten,” Apelt said.

Only the top two 12-year-olds and top three 13-year-olds in the region are chosen to compete in the Elite Division. That means, out of all the young gymnasts across the United States, two of the top 50 to 60 are from the Greater Richmond community.

The competition extends through May 14, so the community is eager to see how these boys will do this week and into the next.