When the Midland AcroClub gymnastics team at Midland Adventist Academy attended the 26th Annual AcroFest at Washington Adventist University in November 2017, the highlight of the program was one of the AcroClub’s team members, Heidi Burke, being recognized with the Heather Boulais Courage Award. This unique award is presented at each AcroFest to a gymnast who exhibits the character and courage Boulais has displayed, both before and after her injury.

Heidi is a seventh-grader at Midland and a first-year member of MAC. She has been doing gymnastics since she was young. She watched her older sisters, Erin and Lily, as they practiced headstands, did the splits and turned cartwheels. Erin and Lily saw no reason why Heidi should not learn along with them, so the sisters did gymnastics together for years in the living room.

Besides her sisters, Heidi credits coach Matt Evens for her development in gymnastics. Evens was the elementary P.E. teacher and assistant gymnastics coach at Midland last year. “Coach Matt would show all of the kids a move, and then he would come over to me and say, ‘Okay, Heidi, how can we do this?’ He would try something, and then try something else, until he figured out a way that I could do it,” Heidi says.

This year, Lily, who has been on the team since its inception, urged Heidi to join. Because of Evens’ and Lily’s confidence in her, she decided to follow in her sisters’ footsteps. Attending AcroFest was a particular high point of the year for her and the team.

Higher and higher

AcroFest is an annual gymnastics clinic in which teams from Adventist schools across the NAD and beyond come together for skill building, fellowship and fun. One of the skills stations this year was building three-highs. Clinician Doug Peterson had brought a men’s four-group to assist him at AcroFest, and they jumped at the chance to carefully help Heidi climb up a three-high. 

Each Acrofest concludes with a three-hour performance by the teams. During the middle of the show, Peterson and the men’s four-team came onto the mat and asked for Heidi to join them. In one of the highlights of the program, the young men built a three-high again with Heidi at the top. The cheers from the crowd were amazing.

Afterward, Union College coach Ryan Perry, with help from Heather, presented the award to Heidi. She was surprised by the recognition and gave credit to others.

“I love being on the team,” Heidi says. “We’re like a family because we’re together a lot, and we have to trust each other. Gymnastics is a sport where trust is really important. It’s fun because I love everything about gymnastics. I guess I’m also an adrenaline addict. The higher the toss, the better!”

Dawn Burke, Heidi’s mother, has been just as enthusiastic about Heidi’s experience in gymnastics. “Heidi always wants to try everything, has no fear, and doesn’t set limits for herself at all. It’s just a matter of getting others to see her that way. I am thankful for the warm family environment that MAC provides for my girls. Gymnastics has undoubtedly been one of the biggest highlights.”

Jonathan Borne is head coach for the Midland Adventist Academy AcroClub.