For four hours a day, five days a week, Lexi Mura, is at World Class Gymnastics flipping, tossing and twisting her petite, powerful body. The 17-year-old practices four events -- bars, beam, floor exercise and vault -- and makes moves that have taken her years to polish seem easy and effortless.
"A lot of people tell me, 'It's so easy. It's not a real sport. It's a hobby. I can do that,'" said Mura, a senior at Belleville East. "They don't understand the technicalities of it. They don't understand it's actually difficult and that it takes a lot of strength and power."
Mura makes it look so easy because she has been learning and practicing gymnastics since she was 2 years old. Like many young gymnasts, Mura wanted to compete in the Olympics. But as she got older, she set her sights on a different goal -- to compete in college gymnastics. Over the summer, her dream became reality as she signed a full-ride scholarship with the University of Iowa.
"That's been my number-one goal since I was a little girl," said Mura, who is 5 feet tall, 120 pounds. "That's been my dream. Everyone is like, 'I want to go to the Olympics.' That'd be really cool to go to the Olympics, but let's shoot for a college scholarship. I've been working at it my whole life. To finally be able to achieve that one goal, it means a lot to me."
Mura, along with Ciara Gresham, 16, and Taylor Dittmar, 14, are the three level 10 gymnasts at World Class Gymnastics in Belleville. Level 10 is the highest a gymnast can reach before the elite level, which is the level gymnasts compete on for the national team and Olympics.
"The Olympics is kind of a separate level," Mura said. "You have way harder skills. It's out of this world. It'd be really cool if I could do some of that stuff, but I'm happy with being a level 10."
World Class coaches Donna Berutti and Scott King have coached Dittmar, Gresham and Mura since they've been in the program. Sixteen of their gymnasts, including Mura, have obtained college scholarships, most notably, Ashley Sledge. Sledge competed on the University of Alabama squad that won the team national championship in 2011 and 2012.
"Our goal right here is for the girls to walk into the program, and if they obtain level 10, they try to do college gymnastics," Berutti said.
Mura has been with World Class since 2004 after moving from Baltimore. Dittmar and Gresham have been with World Class since they were 2 years old.
"(My parents) said I was really active whenever I was little," Gresham said. "I would always flip on the beds, so they put me in (gymnastics)."
Mura and Gresham achieved level 10 five years ago, while Dittmar is in her first season.
"Our program starts at level 4," Berutti said. "They usually start within that program when they're 6 and 7 years old. They work their way through the levels as they progress. Not everyone that walks into the gym will be a level 10. It's not a for sure thing for anyone. You have to be extremely talented to get to that level."
Gresham and Dittmar said their main gymnastic goal is to compete at the collegiate level like Mura.
"I look up to Lexi because she's a leader in the gym and she always helps me with my corrections and skills," Dittmar said. "We have one-on-one talks if I'm having trouble with something. She just tells me, 'Do what you do in practice.' She tells me corrections about it. It really helps me out."
Mura looked up to the older girls at World Class, but now she's the one setting an example.
"All the parents come up to me and all the little girls, it means a lot," Mura said. "I try to set a really good example for them. I try to be the best that I can be and show them what it's like to be a leader. It means a lot that they look up to me because I used to look up to older girls who are gone now. Seeing what they did and thinking, 'Wow. That's what I'm doing now.'"
Mura has competed at the Junior Olympic National Championships the past four years and the National Invitation Tournament the past two years, where she finished second last year and 10th the year before. It was videos of her routines she posted on YouTube that caught the attention of Iowa.
"The way I got along with the coaches and the girls and the relationship I had with them, I definitely knew I wanted to go there," Mura said. "They made me really welcomed. It felt like home. I loved the campus. I loved everything about it. I love the team. It was beautiful. They have a great team. They have great academics, too. It felt right."
Mura will be competing for Iowa, which is the home state of her gymnastic inspiration, U.S. Olympic gold medalist Shawn Johnson.
"Shawn Johnson is one of my favorites," Mura said. "She's so well put together. Everything she does, she does it with perfection. She's a good girl and I strive to be kind of like her."
Mura spends her two off days back in the gym coaching levels four and five gymnasts.
"The girls are so funny," Mura said. "They're hilarious. They come up with the craziest things. They work hard. They're a joy to be around. I know how it all works now, the frustrations of being a coach sometimes. It's nice to learn all that so I can see it from my coaches' point of view."
Mura wants to use her scholarship to major in nursing and minor in psychology, but she might change it to pharmacy. Her goal is to compete all-around for Iowa and help them out the best she can in her four years.
"(Gymnastics will) always be special to me," Mura said. "It'll always be my life. It's not just a lifestyle."