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Indiana Township gymnast set to compete in Maccabiah Games

| Wednesday, March 13, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
Indiana Township resident Shani Caplan Chernoff will compete in the 19th Maccabiah Games, to be held from July 17 to 30 in Israel. Submitted
Indiana Township resident Shani Caplan Chernoff will compete in the 19th Maccabiah Games, to be held from July 17 to 30 in Israel. Submitted

Shani Caplan Chernoff is working twice as hard as she prepares for her first international competition as a rhythmic gymnast at the 19th Maccabiah Games, to be held July 17 to 30 in Israel.

Chernoff, 16, of Indiana Township was one of two girls named to an open team that will represent America.

Leora Feldman of Los Angeles also will compete.

Held every four years, the Games draw top Jewish athletes from around the world.

Competitors have included Olympic gymnasts Mitch Gaylord and Kerri Strug.

In rhythmic gymnastics, athletes perform jumps, leaps and tosses and other moves with different forms of equipment, including hoops, clubs, ribbons and balls. Competitors are judged on coordination, dance ability and grace.

By adding morning workouts, Chernoff, a veteran of junior competitions, doubled the number of hours she practices to 30 a week.

A sophomore and former Fox Chapel student, she enrolled in a cyber school to accommodate the expanded schedule.

Jewart's Gymnastics, where she trains, donated workout space.

“Expecting her to be nervous, we're having her repeat a lot so everything will be correct, and she will know what to do,” said Kamelia Dunlevy, head coach and program director for Jewart's, noting that Chernoff sometimes spends more than seven hours a day practicing.

Born in Jerusalem and the daughter of an Israeli immigrant, Chernoff looks forward to competing.

“I've always dreamt of going to the Olympics,” she said. “This is just as good.”

A website, www.navachernoff.com/shani, has been set up by her mother to raise funds.

Nava Chernoff coaches her daughter when Dunlevy is not available.

Dunlevy admires Shani Chernoff's dedication.

“(Rhythmic gymnastics) is a demanding sport; you can't take days off,” Dunlevy said. “It's an accomplishment that Shani has done it so long.”

Possessing great physical flexibility, Shani Chernoff said she was steered into rhythmic while taking gymnastics instruction when she was 9.

Karen Kadilak is a freelance writer.

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