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Emma Rester is the Instagram-Famous Future of American Gymnastics

With thousands of Instagram followers and an 'Ellen' appearance, Emma appears here to stay.

While training recently, Emma Rester fell off the bar while trying to catch her balance and strained her bicep tendon. Was she annoyed about the pain? Not really. Despite not yet being in grade school, Emma behaves like a veteran athlete. She was just pissed she couldn’t work out.

“She said that day, ‘I have to get back on the bar. I don’t want to get scared. You never end on a bad one,’” recalls Annie Rester, who is both a proud mother and a woman puzzled by her own child’s abilities.

It didn’t take long for Emma’s parents to notice that their daughter was extraordinary. She has always been developmentally ahead of the curve, inquisitive, and tough. Also active. Very active. Annie initially noticed this because her very young daughter seemed really uncoordinated and clumsy. She kept bumping her way around. Not necessarily concerned, but eager to help out, Annie enrolled Emma in gymnastics classes. Then, well, Emma happened.

Emma started gymnastics at the ripe old age of 30 months. At the time, the Resters were living in El Paso, Texas and the local coaches got to know her quickly. They were taken aback by her natural ability. As soon as she got some instruction, the clumsiness was gone. There was some expectation there – Emma’s dad, Brent, played baseball and football and Annie did karate and danced – but no one saw Emma’s natural talent or drive coming.

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“Within a couple of weeks there, they kept moving her up to higher classes. She was introduced to higher level skills early on, because of her talent and because she really enjoyed what she was doing,” said Annie. “They had Gabby Douglas on in the viewing area of her gym. She told her coach ‘I want you to make me as good as Gabby Douglas.’ She was very little, not even 3 yet, so her coach was very amused by that.”

Soon after Emma’s gymnastics journey kicked into gear, Annie began chronicling her development through an Instagram page. The pictures and video show incredible growth and skills from post to post, and her social following grew along with her talent; the page now has over 249,000 followers. In the earliest posts, you see Emma mastering basics like a pike-and-tuck on a panel mat or learning a cast to handstand on the uneven bars. She’s since graduated to more advanced skills that mirror what you see on television every four years. The Instagram page even caught the eye of producers at Ellen, who invited Emma on to show off her skills.

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Despite Emma’s aptitude for the sport, not everything has been easy for the family. For 16 months, Annie was Emma’s main support system while her husband, Brent, was stationed in South Korea with the military. Although the family is now back together in Arizona, Annie is still pulling double duty as both Emma’s mother and as a psychology student. Besides being a big time suck, gymnastics is a very expensive sport for kids. Gym time is critical. Instruction is critical. There are no shortcuts.

There are, however, ways to ensure at least some longevity in a sport that burns a lot of young athletes out at speed. The most critical is letting them try other stuff. Annie is pushing Emma to do exactly that – not in service of getting her to quit gymnastics, but in order to make sure that she never feels like she doesn’t have options. “We’ve always said, ‘Gymnastics will be your only thing if you never try anything else,'” says Annie. “We just try our best to expose her to as many things as possible.”

Still, Emma is a gymnastics talent. When Annie watches her, she sees a remarkable ability to remain calm while attempting the more complex maneuvers. She is learning to understand her own body. She is getting better.

“She likes to say she’ll be in the Olympics, then Cirque du Soleil, and then a music teacher when she’s ‘too old to do all the cool stuff,” says Annie. “When people ask us, ‘Is that our goal for her?’ We say that it isn’t. Our goal is for her to go as far as she would like to go or as far as she is able to go. No medal in the world is worth missing out on your childhood.”