Competitive baton twirler Richie Terwilliger of Suffern, N.Y., practices a routine. / Peter Carr, The (Westchester County, N.Y.) Journal News
HILLBURN, N.Y. - The batons are sometimes in the air one, two, three, four, five, six, seven seconds.
There are tricks, dance and gymnastics - every move requiring concentration and precision.
More than two hours of daily practice go into this sport.
And Richie Terwilliger, the man with the batons, emphasizes that twirling is just that - a sport.
The 22-year-old Suffern resident is competing in his sixth world championships. This time, the locale is England for the World Baton Twirling Championships, which run through Sunday.
About 20 countries have teams, and 18 are competing in England.
If Terwilliger's name isn't familiar, that's likely because twirling is virtually an unknown sport in the U.S.
"People think of college twirlers or parades," Terwilliger said.
And of girls.
In the U.S., the female-to-male ratio on a competitive level is a whopping 40-to-1. It's nearly 50-50 in some countries.
That's one big reason why, after starting to compete at age 12, Terwilliger stopped a couple times.
"Mostly I felt uncomfortable in a world that was so female-dominated," he said, explaining that his love of the sport eventually trumped the awkwardness.
"What attracts me to the sport of baton is there are unlimited tricks, flips and rolls. You can catch in several different ways and do different patterns."
His introduction to twirling came through his sister, Krissy, now 18 and a sophomore on scholarship as the University of Washington's primary twirler.
She has competed in three worlds and will take part next year in another, the International Cup in Canada, where she and her brother - U.S. 2013 and '14 senior dance twirl pairs champions - will compete in pairs and multiple individual events. They were fifth in pairs in their only prior worlds as a team.
Krissy was 4 when she began twirling in a local YMCA program. Competitions followed. While watching, Richie often would pick up a baton and twirl.
Having absorbed the routines, he was recruited at 12 to fill in when Krissy's local Junior Olympics-bound team was short a member.
That same year, he watched his sister compete in Twirlmania, Disney World's annual international competition, and happily saw multiple male participants.
"It was very inspiring," Terwilliger said.
That solidified his commitment to twirling, though he also swam and ran cross country for Suffern High School, captaining the swim team as a senior.
At his first worlds, in 2009, he placed third in two baton and fourth in solo baton, both in the junior men category.
As a senior-level competitor, he had one fourth place in 2012 and a fifth last year.
He qualified for England by placing second at nationals in freestyle, an event to which he's fairly new.
Besides all his baton practice, he has improved by taking gymnastics the past four years and dance classes at Lehigh University, where he's a senior engineering student.
"When I reached the world level, I realized how fundamental it is to have dance technique and gymnastics. I had to play catch-up," he said.
His coach, Giannette Groome, says he has a good blend of strength and flexibility, and natural artistic ability.
"He can bring a character to life in a freestyle performance," she said.
Terwilliger's known for rolling the baton over his body without using his hands.
He's currently the only competitor to juggle a baton with his elbows, then knock it with a knee behind him, where he blindly catches it.
But he and Groome say his aerial work must improve for him to challenge the world's best.
Terwilliger simply wants to qualify for the 12-man semifinals. His long-term goal is to be in the medal mix, but that could be difficult.
"We have to juggle real life with a pro athlete's life," he said. " I might not be financially able to pursue this until I'm 30. But, definitely, it's a goal to get as far as I can."
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