by Jenny Walker
On a busy August day North East Texas Elite Gymnastics is buzzing with excitement. Laughter and cheerful chatter echo as tiny tumblers’ cartwheels and back handsprings seem to represent the weightlessness of their final carefree days of summer break. As some of the younger students wait for their turn to showcase their best flips across the floor, their little eyes catch a glimpse of a local celebrity. Their attention follows 15-year-old Joscelyn Roberson as she makes her way across the gym to practice bar skills.
Joscelyn, who is working to earn a chance to compete in the 2024 Olympics, climbs up on mats taller than her. Her eyes focus on a bar above her tightly pinned blonde bun as she takes a deep breath. She hoists herself up and follows the guidance of her coach as she begins to defy gravity. Flip. Turn. Flip.
On dismount, Joscelyn releases her grip from the bar and her petite body flies through the air. She lands on her belly with a thud, and the sound makes her mom, Ashley, sit up straight and draw in a breath. Unfazed, Joscelyn gets up and talks things over with her coach. Ashley exhales.
“I have learned to stop coming to practice,” Ashley said. “I don’t like to watch all of the falls. Jeff loves to watch her practice, but I usually just go to the meets so I can see the finished product. Otherwise, it’s an emotional roller coaster for me while she’s learning.”
Parenting an award-winning gymnast has brought many unique challenges to Ashley and Jeff Roberson, who are high school sweethearts and the parents of three teenagers, the youngest being Joscelyn. The Texarkana natives were not gymnasts growing up, so they have learned the sport over the years as they worked to support Joscelyn’s career.
“I was an athlete, but I played baseball,” Jeff said. “This is something I have had to learn along the way. Joscelyn can speak the language of gymnastics, and I have to look things up to know what she’s talking about sometimes. She will get excited and start telling me about a new skill she is learning, and I will research it on YouTube so that I make sure I really understand what she is telling me.”
The language of gymnastics isn’t the only new thing that Jeff and Ashley have had to learn over the last few years as Joscelyn has moved into the ranks of upper-level competitions. They have had to navigate issues like helping Joscelyn balance her rigorous training schedule with advanced classes taught virtually.
“She trains 30 to 40 hours per week,” Ashley said. “She has not been able to go to brick and mortar school since she was at Wake Village Elementary in second grade. She was in gifted and talented, so for a while, we were able to take her just for GT and then she would complete all of her other assignments through the virtual academy. Then we got to the point where we were just strictly online.”
Attending school online helps accommodate the amount of travel Joscelyn has to work into competition season, which runs from December to June. During competition season, Joscelyn travels twice a month and is usually gone for a week at a time. She travels all over the U.S.—and sometimes internationally—to compete against the best gymnasts in the world.
Although she attends school virtually, Joscelyn has a large social circle of friends inside and outside of the gymnastics world. As she grows in recognition, Ashley and Jeff have had to learn to proactively manage Joscelyn’s fans on social media.
“She has a pretty large Instagram following on her professional account,” Jeff said. “I block out anything that people send to her that is inappropriate. You can find information easily online, and we have had to really talk to Joscelyn about safety. We talk about what she should and shouldn’t say online. She’s really mature, but she’s also so young, and it’s just scary to think about the things people will say and do. All parents worry about their kids on social media, but this puts it on a bigger scale.”
Another parenting issue that is magnified for the Robersons is helping their daughter maintain a positive body image.
“Most teenage girls struggle with their bodies in some form, and Joscelyn spends most of her time in what
basically looks like a swimsuit,” Ashley said. “She can’t hide anything. We have talked a lot about her body image. There are some things she doesn’t like about her body, but I make sure she knows that we all feel that way.”
While she works to keep a positive body image, Ashley said Joscelyn also works to stay in tune with her body.
“She knows her body well,” Ashley said. “She knows the difference between having an injury and having achy muscles and being sore from workouts. She is very serious about taking care of the basic exercises that are so important in training and also taking care of herself in recovery. We have been blessed to be mostly injury free.”
Jeff and Ashley are also careful to support Joscelyn’s mental health as much as her physical health. They say there is a lot of pressure that comes when performing and competing on such a high level.
“On a baseball team, a loss is not on one single person’s shoulders,” Jeff said. “This is an individual sport, so if you don’t do your best, it’s all on you. That’s tough.”
To keep things in perspective, they encourage what they call “Joscelyn’s Gymnastics.”
“When they go to a meet and they don’t do well, they’re just devastated,” Ashley said. “Then you have to send them back the next day. That wears on your heart as a mom. We just remind her that she has to focus on what she does best, not what anyone else is doing. She just has to focus on Joscelyn’s Gymnastics and be the best that she can be.”
Ashley said Joscelyn’s coaches have done a fabulous job in helping their daughter concentrate on being the best she can be. Even though the Robersons could move to a bigger city with more gym options, they would never consider it.
“Joscelyn’s coaches have always gone above and beyond to make sure they have the training they need to give her every opportunity possible,” Ashley said. “They make connections on her behalf. They advocate for her. They have been here since the beginning. We love them like family. Plus, Texarkana—and this gym—are home.”
And home is important to the Robersons. They have made it a top priority to learn how to balance Joscelyn’s gymnastics career while also making sure they provide a strong foundation for all their children. Ashley and Jeff plan their schedules so they all eat dinner together as a family, and even though Joscelyn travels often, they are careful not to do extra things on those trips without the siblings.
“We don’t do too many big things without the whole family,” Ashley said. “We don’t want to create family memories unless we can all be there.”
Ashley and Jeff say that their children get along well and that Joscelyn’s siblings—who both attend Texas High School—are her biggest fans.
“As much as they all support everything Joscelyn does, she supports them just as much in the things they do,” Ashley said.
Their close-knit family is one important component in helping ensure that Joscelyn remains grounded even as she finds continued success in her gymnastics career. Ashley and Jeff want to encourage Joscelyn’s talents, but they also want to establish a sense of normalcy for Joscelyn.
“We really just try to make sure she has the life of a normal kid,” Ashley said. “She might be an Olympian one day, but today she’s still going to do the dishes and take out the trash.”
Texarkana native Jenny Walker has worked in education for almost 20 years, but her favorite and most important job has been to serve as mom to Ryan Kate and Owen.