MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Sophia Helmkamp discovered gymnastics as a 6-year-old at the South Mountain YMCA, developing a passion for the sport that she shares with others as a Y teacher and coach.
When she turned 14, “I felt it was time that I gave back to the gym that showed me my love for gymnastics,” Helmkamp, a lifelong Maplewood resident, said in the release. “I love the satisfying feeling of seeing a young girl or boy acquire a new skill that they have been working on for a while.”
Helmkamp’s devotion to the South Mountain Y’s gymnastics program has earned the 17-year-old branch’s 2015 Youth of the Year Award. Helmkamp was honored at the Metropolitan YMCA of the Oranges’ 39th annual dinner, held April 7 at the Hanover Manor in East Hanover. The South Mountain Y is one of six branches of the Metro Y, the largest association of YMCAs in New Jersey.
Helmkamp “exemplifies what it means to be a young leader. If you take a walk into the gym during any of our gymnastic classes or team practices, you will see Sophia engaging the class, all eyes on her,” South Mountain Y Enrichment and Family Programs Director Gailmarie Sprague said.
Sprague said Helmkamp helped build a gymnastics team. “Sophia’s patience and understanding with the gymnasts has created a culture of home in the gym, something that is unique to the Y,” she added.
Helmkamp’s father, Dave, said he is proud of his daughter’s commitment to gymnastics and the YMCA. “The Y is a great institution, and she’s been there for equal parts benefit and contribution,” he said.
Sprague said Helmkamp models the Y values both at school and in the community. “We are fortunate to have someone as reliable and inspiring as Sophia to spread the Y’s message,” she said.
The Columbia High School senior plans to study psychology the University of California, San Diego in the fall.