At first glance, Carli Block and Anthony Firkser don’t appear to have much in common. She’s from Morganville; he lives in Manalapan. He is three years older than she is. They go to different high schools and attend different congregations. She’s tiny — at least in comparison with his 6'3″, 215-pound frame. And they have never met.
But this July, they will share a single goal — to represent their country at the quadrennial Maccabiah Games in Israel. She’s a gymnast, and he will play guard for the 18 and under Team USA basketball squad.
The two youngsters are part of a Monmouth County contingent that includes more than a dozen athletes and one trainer. Over the next several issues, NJJN will profile some of these competitors, whose sports encompass track and field, soccer, swimming, fencing, ice hockey, and table tennis.
Anthony, a member of the National Honor Society as well as an athlete, has already signed a letter of intent to play football and basketball at Harvard University next year. During his basketball career at Manalapan High School, he scored more than 1,300 points and was named first team All Shore by The Asbury Park Press. Despite this record, Anthony told NJJN that he is a better football player — at wide receiver — than he is a hoopster.
The Firkser family — including parents, Alex and Donna, and brother Josh, a student at Wagner College — belongs to Temple Shaari Emeth in Manalapan. Anthony celebrated his bar mitzva there, and is now looking forward to making his first trip to Israel. “I’ll be leaving July 6,” he said. “The Games begin on July 17 and go to the end of the month.”
Carli, a freshman at Marlboro High School, competes on the varsity gymnastics team. She has been on the honor roll every marking period so far.
The Blocks are members of Marlboro Jewish Center, where Carli and her 18-year-old sister Samantha both became bat mitzva. Brother Jake, 10, is a fifth-grader at Robertsville Elementary School.
At 14, Carli is a veteran gymnast. In an e-mail, she told NJJN, “I began competing when I was six years old, but I started learning when I was two.”
For Carli, perseverance has been rewarded with success. This year she qualified for the level nine regional championships for the first time. “I was also third in the New Jersey states at level seven on bars.”
And now she is on her way to Israel, where she will compete in the vault, uneven bars, balance beam, and in the floor exercise.
Carli credits her coach, Toni Borden, for unwavering support “through every hardship I have faced. Gymnastics is a very difficult sport,” she wrote.
If there is one lesson that competition has taught her, it is to “never give up,” Carli said. “In gymnastics, many things can get in your way, such as injury, illness, fear, growing, and more. All of these things you have to face, and they make you a better person. If you just gave up when things got hard, you wouldn’t get anywhere in life.”