After Averie Mitchell’s right leg was amputated due to a rare medical condition, her mother, Kimberly Mitchell, wondered what her 2-year-old could do to enjoy a normal life.
Kimberly found her answer two years later at a gymnastics studio in Hugo, Oklahoma, where Averie took naturally to tumbling, even with a prosthetic limb.
“After her very first class, she was hooked,” Kimberly, who works in radiology at a rural hospital, tells PEOPLE of Averie. “Gymnastics came easy to her — she just set her mind to it, persevered and found a way.”
Averie, now 11, competed against able-bodied gymnasts on June 30 at the Amateur Athletics Union National Championships in Tampa Bay, Florida, winning third place on the beam and 10th place overall.
“I was so excited when I made nationals, and now my goal is to go to the Olympics,” the sixth-grader tells PEOPLE. “The hardest part about doing gymnastics with a prosthetic is that I don’t have an ankle joint, but I just power through. I’ve just learned to deal with it.”
Averie was just 3 days old when she was diagnosed with pseudarthrosis of the tibia, in which a break in the tibia bone fails to heal on its own. Averie eventually had her right leg amputated below the knee.
“It was devastating to have done everything right during my pregnancy to find out that she was born with what we thought was a broken leg,” says Kimberly, who is married to John Mitchell, an assistant police chief in Hugo, and has two other grown daughters. “I was determined that Averie would grow up doing whatever she wanted.”
As Averie grew, Kimberly and John were stunned and delighted to watch their daughter devote hours after school to practicing floor exercises and beam routines.
“I’m super proud of all she’s accomplished,” John says. “It’s been a great joy to watch her compete and win medals.”
Kimberly adds: “Never in my dreams did I imagine that she’d be as good as she is and love gymnastics so much. During the school year, we have to take her homework to the gym, so she won’t have to do it later at home.”
Averie’s longtime coach at Hugo Gymnastics, Amanda Siniga, says that Averie pushes herself to learn new skills and has never taken shortcuts or expected preferential treatment. The young girl trains about 12 hours a week.
“She’s funny and she’s smart,” Amanda tells PEOPLE,” but most importantly, she’s just another kid. Averie always finds a way and is never cut any slack or given an easy way out. She works hard, sometimes with humor, sometimes with tears, but always with determination.”
An honor student at Swink Public School, Averie finds inspiration in her dog, Hattie Mae, a rescue Labrador-pit bull who lost her right leg as a puppy and now has a prosthetic like Averie’s.
“They quickly formed a bond and became inseparable,” Kimberly tells PEOPLE. “It was a perfect match — they’re now best friends.”