At a time when most other kids were still in bed, McKenna Cunningham was preparing to sweat.
The 10-year-old Manse Elementary School student spent an hour early Sunday morning on the football field at Pahrump Valley High School, going through a rigorous set of athletic drills under the watchful eye of Dominique Maloy on the first weekend of the latest series of Maloy’s “A Youth Sports Experience.”
Cunningham doesn’t play soccer, or softball, or basketball. She is not training to run track or play volleyball.
“I don’t play any sports,” she said. “I’m a martial artist in karate and a dancer.”
So why was she out there early on a Sunday morning, during summer vacation, no less?
“It’s all his fault,” she laughed, gesturing toward her father. “Well, it was my mom’s and my dad’s idea.”
Allen Cunningham didn’t deny the charge, but he knows full well how much his daughter enjoyed the workout.
“I feel that she’s physically gifted and has a lot of skills, and anything that we can do for her to allow her to be better and to learn different techniques that cross over between her dancing, her karate and whatever other sports she gets involved with, we want to do,” the older Cunningham said.
McKenna has been doing karate for about five years and has earned her green belt. She said she has been dancing “since I was like one and a half.”
Her father was impressed that she was eager for the chance to work with Maloy again.
“She’s very dedicated,” Allen Cunningham said. “To get up early on a Sunday morning to do this, to be willing to do this, I think she ultimately knows that it makes her better.
“To be in the presence of a professional athlete, to get this kind of experience, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime deal to get this kind of attention. This is something she will remember for the rest of her life.”
Maloy, a 15-time state track and field champion who plays for the Nashville Knights of the Legends Football League, finds something special in just about every kid she works with, and she had high praise for McKenna.
“From what I saw these past two days, any time I had something to say or any time I had a critique, even during what she was doing, she had the ability to adapt to it, stay focused and still give the same amount of effort that I need,” Maloy said. “She has so much potential inside.
“The way she transforms, the way she can adapt, she has such potential, but she’s also 10. There’s so much to life that she’s enjoying that maybe what her purpose is or what she’s going to give back to the world is not definitive in her yet.”
Giving back is a common theme for Maloy, who said she has spent much of her life searching for ways to give back.
“As a little kid, when I think about what I wanted to do, and what my mom always said I wanted to do, I always said I wanted to help people,” she said after the session. “There came a moment where I just didn’t know how I was going to help people, but life has been presenting opportunities where I can coach, where I can come to people’s practices and support them and come to their games.”
Maloy’s interest in other people is obvious, even to a 10-year-old.
“I like that she’s really active and she cares a lot about people,” McKenna Cunningham said.
Maloy gets the word out about her sessions via Facebook, and she counts many of Pahrump’s young athletes among her Facebook friends. Old-fashioned word of mouth also comes in handy.
“I think there was a flyer that went around last year, and I assume my wife brought it home from school,” Allen Cunningham said. His wife, Joann Cunningham, is a teacher at Pahrump Valley High School. Father and daughter went together the first time McKenna worked with Maloy.
“I was just amazed,” he said. “Watching the different techniques was really inspiring and really neat to watch. When I played sports, this was all my favorite things to do. The games were the icing on the cake.”
While McKenna reported being exhausted in a good way, her ability and enthusiasm had an impact on Maloy.
“I see me in her, at 10,” Maloy said. “When I’m training her, it’s like I’m training with somebody my own age. As soon as I show her, she’s able to do it.
“As much as I am their trainer and their teacher, they’re as much my teacher, and I’m growing with them. Like I was telling McKenna, the qualities of character that I’m giving you, you’re giving them right back to me in a reflection that you don’t even know.”
Contact Sports Editor Tom Rysinski at firstname.lastname@example.org On Twitter:@pvtimes
‘A Youth Sports Experience’
Dates: June 8-11, 15-18
Times: 7-8 a.m. (all ages), 6-7 p.m. (fourth- through eighth-graders), 7:30-8:30 p.m. (seventh- through 12th-graders)
Cost: $5 per class