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Military child overcomes challenges for passion

F.E. WARREN AIR FORCE BASE, Wyo. --

Growing up as a military child can be tough – dealing with constant moves, new schools and leaving old friends behind. Many families go through the struggle together, finding ways to integrate into the communities around them.

Twelve year-old Emma Brittingham, daughter of Lt. Col. Jacob Brittingham, 37th Helicopter Squadron, has spent her whole life as a military child. In the past 6 years, she has lived at four Air Forces bases in three states and another country.

Emma has not let her status of a military child slow her down as she excels in doing what she loves: learning and competing in gymnastics.

"I enjoy gymnastics because it gives me a challenge,” Emma said. “Every day I walk into the gym, I can always expect something new and exciting. Gymnastics helps me appreciate more because sometimes I have a bad day at the gym and that is discouraging. But, that helps me appreciate the good days even more because when they are good, they are GOOD!”

Emma began her gymnastics training in 2010 near Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, and continued practicing while the family was stationed in Monterey, California. Her first hurdle came when the family received orders to Germany. 

“When we moved to Germany, we learned there was no American gymnastics for her to participate in,” Jacob Brittingham said. “We found a gym where the coaches spoke some English and decided to give it a try.”

Though the coaches spoke English, most of the other children and parents only spoke German, he said.

Instead of letting the language barrier become an issue, the family decided to enroll Emma into a school off-base, where she learned to speak the language.

“It was really cool living in Germany and getting the experience there,” Emma said. “Not many people get the experience of learning a new language in the country.”

As she continued training, Emma competed in meets, and was able to experience what some only dream of.

“Being able to get the training and experience of competing internationally was really cool,” Emma said. “My dream is to one day be a professional gymnast, so to be able to get the experience so early was great.”

Recently, Emma competed in and won the level-8 state gymnastics tournament and qualified to represent Wyoming in the regional competition held in Dallas, Texas, April 15th.

“I’ve always wanted to qualify for regionals,” she said. “It’s exciting to win state. I honestly didn’t think I was going to win this year, so getting it is really cool.”

Emma’s excitement and passion for gymnastics is shared by her entire family and every time they arrive at a new location it’s one of their top concerns.

“It's the first thing we do when we land in a new city, we find a gym,” said Kelly Brittingham, Emma’s mother. “We work as a family to find a place that fits our criteria and go from there.”

For the family, finding a place to train has a dual purpose: to help Emma continue her passion, and to help the family adapt to the new locations.

“The gym is a way for us to integrate with other families when we move to new places,” Lt. Col. Brittingham said. “We continue to use gymnastics gyms as a way to come together as a family.”

Emma said she hopes to continue her training over the next few years, with her dream of representing the United States in the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. After high school, her goal is to attend college in Florida to continue training and competing.