Demonstrating faith through cartwheels
Moriah Respondek started taking gymnastic lessons at the age of 6, so she could learn to do a cartwheel. Now, at the age of 17, she completes more than 2,000 cartwheels at a time to raise money for her church’s missions.
This is the fifth year Respondek will complete the challenge, and the amount of cartwheels she performs keeps growing. For 2022, she will perform 2,022 cartwheels and pledge to raise $100,000 collectively with her brother, Seth, who will block 2,022 soccer balls.
Respondek scheduled her first cartwheel challenge at the age of 14 with a few other girls from her church, Bethel Assembly of God’s youth group. Each girl in the group did 200 cartwheels to reach a total of 1,000.
Then, an unexpected tragedy hit the Respondek family.
Respondek’s father, Lucas, passed away from a sudden heart attack on Aug. 5, 2018, 20 days before the scheduled challenge.
“I was really unsure to do [the challenge], obviously, afterwards, but then I thought, ‘I can also do this in honor of him. … This can be something that can challenge me and others,’” Respondek said.
Respondek went forward with the challenge in honor of her father and raised $4,000 for the Assembly of God’s Speed for Light program, providing vehicles for missionaries around the world and building water wells.
The next year, Respondek decided to do the cartwheel challenge alone and complete not 1,000 cartwheels but 2,019.
On the day of the challenge, her youth group, pastor and members of Bethel Assembly of God gathered to cheer her on. She performed cartwheel after cartwheel for four hours, taking short breaks in between.
Respondek was physically and emotionally exhausted once she reached 1,700 cartwheels. She said she wanted to quit, but her youth pastor, Danny Wilson, encouraged her to continue.
Pushing through her emotions and sore arms, Respondek performed the last 319 cartwheels to reach her goal of 2,019.
“[After I finished,] I started crying automatically, because I remember my hands were so numb, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I did that,’” Respondek said. “I just felt this overwhelming sense of peace, and I knew in that moment, like, this is what God was calling me to do in honor of my dad and for missions.”
Respondek said she felt “very sore” after the challenge, and when she attempted another cartwheel later, “it did not end well.” The sore limbs were worth it each year, as Respondek and her youth group raised more money for their church’s missions. In 2020, her youth group raised approximately $67,000 — enough to build one and a half water wells.
Besides cartwheeling, Respondek is a senior cheerleader on Jackson High School’s Varsity Red Team. She loves going to games, cheering on her peers and building close connections with the other cheerleaders. She’s not in gymnastics anymore, but she coaches tumbling to younger children.
After graduating this May, Respondek plans to pursue a career in elementary education. She also hopes to coach high school cheerleading and continue completing challenges to raise money for missions.
“I want to keep doing [the cartwheel challenge] at least through college and stuff, but I know there’s going to be a point when I’m physically not going to be able to do 2,030 cartwheels,” Respondek said. “I do hope I do it as long as I am physically able to, because I do think that’s a talent that God has given me.”
Between spending time with her youth group and performing thousands of cartwheels to support missionaries, Respondek strives to demonstrate the faith she saw in her parents growing up. She said her parents “always shared the love of Jesus,” no matter what their days entailed. Respondek said this is something that will stick with her for the rest of her life.
“I would love if someone would look at me and say, ‘I can see Jesus through her.’ I would absolutely love that,” Respondek said.