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Christian Gymnast Vaults onto the Big Screen

By Belinda Elliott Daily Life Producer

CBN.comMaddy Curley is a determined young woman. She believes that faith in God combined with dedication and hard work can lead anyone to success. Her recent journey seems to confirm this idea.

Last year Curley went from a classroom in rural North Carolina where she taught seventh graders, to Hollywood, Calif., for her big-screen debut in the new Disney comedy Stick It, starring Jeff Bridges. (The film takes its name from a gymnastics term that means executing a clean landing.) Curley plays “Mina,” a 16-year-old gymnast learning to take risks and stand up for herself.

The role fits Curley well. Much like her character, the gymnast believes in working hard and striving to achieve life-long dreams. A Tallahassee, Fla., native, Curley has been involved in gymnastics since age 4. At the University of North Carolina, she competed in the sport at the college level – going to the NCAA regional championships four times.

She also excelled outside the gym. Curley caught the acting bug at a young age, and being a drama major at UNC gave her the opportunity to be in numerous plays and perform with two on-campus student-theater groups, The Lab! Theatre and Company Carolina.

When she graduated from UNC, she was selected as one of 1,300 graduates from a field of 13,000 nationwide to become part of the Teach America program, which encourages teachers to accept jobs in low income and rural areas. It was in this position, in Rocky Mount, N.C., where Curley first learned about the open casting call for Stick It.

She drove to Washington, D.C., where she auditioned with thousands of other girls. After several auditions she was finally flown to Los Angeles to meet with the film's writer/director Jessica Bendinger, author of the cheerleading comedy Bring It On, released in 2000.

Her seventh-grade students waited along with their teacher for the next two and a half months before receiving word that she had indeed landed the role.

“The kids would get really excited,” Curley said. “So when I did finally get the part, they were all really happy for me. And they understood when I had to leave school two weeks early.”

One would think that for someone who has been a gymnast all of her life, preparing to portray a gymnast in a film would be easy. However, Curley and the other actresses were put through an intense gymnastics boot camp in preparation for the movie.

“In college you could only train for 20 hours a week because of NCAA rules,” Curley said. "But back in club gymnastics, you could train 24 to 30 hours – they could train you as long as they wanted to really. So it was like going back to club gymnastics because we got up, we did 45 minutes of cardio, two hours of conditioning, and then three hours of gymnastics. When you’ve already gone through college gymnastics, that is a lot on your body to all of a sudden come back to this world that you left behind.”

She said the film accurately portrays how difficult the sport is. “A lot of the lines that are in the movie I’ve heard from coaches so many times, like, ‘Don’t get blood on the bars or on the equipment,’ so it’s very true to that. And then I think the conditioning that you see Haley, the main character, going through really shows just how hard we work every day and how sore you can get.”

But it was all worth it, Curley said. In one scene of the movie, her character has the opportunity to do things that she did not get to do during her college years. “It’s like I’m competing at the international, elite level, and I’m also competing on podium, which I never got to do. It was funny because the movie made a lot of my gymnastics dreams come true even though it was fake,” Curley said.

The film actually fulfilled two dreams for the rising star. She said that when she left college she wasn’t completely ready for her participation in gymnastics to be over. Being able to combine both of her passions – gymnastics and acting – was the best experience she could have hoped for.

“It was like I got to put a good finish on what seemed like an old career and then totally dive into this new career that I wanted,” Curley said.

She said the film has a great message for teens: have the determination to reach your goals and then be willing to follow through to achieve them. It is something that she has always told her students, both as a teacher and now as a youth pastor at her church in California.

“I think teens should definitely know that anything you want to succeed at, it’s going to take hard work. That’s just a fact of life,” Curley said. “If you want to succeed at a job, at school, in sports – it’s not going to be easy, but you should persevere and keep trying.”

She also points her students to God as their source of strength. “I always asked my students to pray for me and I did the same for them,” she said. “I think it goes a long way.”

She advises youth to trust God with their dreams and life aspirations. As she was growing up she said she would often mention her dream to compete in the Olympics one day. Well-intentioned adults would express concern that she may be disappointed if it never happened.

“But you’re not!” Curley said. “Other things come up, and when you live for what you really believe in God is going to provide other things for you.” She encourages teens to trust that God has a good plan for their lives and He knows the dreams they have.

The actress also understands how difficult it can be for teens to stay strong in their faith in a world where Christian values are not embraced by most of society. When she moved to Hollywood, she said the first thing she did was to find a good church. “Just doing that so that you have a support group and accountability can really help,” Curley said.

She also stresses the importance of reading God’s Word so you don’t forget what His principles are.

“So many people are just throwing things at you, saying, ‘Be accepting of this,’ ‘Be accepting of that,’ but you have to remember what your standards are as a Christian. Sometimes it can be hard when so many other people are telling you, ‘No, it’s fine. It’s fine.’ Everyone in this culture, especially in Hollywood, is very accepting of every different lifestyle, and that is one thing that you have to kind of stay away from.”

As for her future plans, Curley said she is loving life in California and plans to continue pursuing her acting career.

“I just want to stay out here and keep doing films and TV as long as I can.”

Stick It releases in theaters on Friday, April 28. For more information, visit the movie’s Web site.

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