Elite and NCAA Gymnast Training Updates—Part 17

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Full Twist contributor Anna Rose Johnson recently caught up with some elite, Level 10, and NCAA gymnasts to discuss their training, future goals, and more.

Alexia Burch, Tenley Colclasure, Catalina Escobar Gomez, Sarah Finnegan, Baleigh Garcia, Isabeau Keene, Courtney Loper, Kaytianna McMillan, Katelyn Ohashi, Brittany Rogers, Jessica Savona, Susan-Caitlin Seavey, Céline van Gerner, Laura Waem, and Emiko Wilks provided us with thoughtful insights into their training.

ALEXIA BURCH: “READY TO GO”

Alexia Burch is a U.S. Level 10 artistic gymnast from Gymnastics Nevada. At the 2015 Nastia Liukin Cup, she placed 15th in the senior all-around. “[My training has been] fantastic,” Alexia told Full Twist. “I am feeling very strong and ready to go.”

Alexia mentioned that one of her short-term goals is to dominate at the J.O. National Championships, and that she might try elite gymnastics. “I am open to all opportunities that gymnastics affords me,” she explained.

The 15-year-old added, “In my downtime I like to hunt, hike, wakeboard, and work hard in school to achieve my goal to become a surgeon.”

 

TENLEY COLCLASURE: “I LOVE BEING PUSHED EVERY SINGLE DAY”

Tenley Colclasure is a U.S. Level 9 artistic gymnast from Texas Dreams Gymnastics in Coppell, Texas. At the 2014 Level 8 Regional Championships, she placed second on vault. “Training has been going really well!” Tenley told Full Twist. “I’m competing Level 9 this season, but I am training Level 10 skills. I’ve been working on double backs on floor, blind fulls and front giants on bars, and front and side aerials on beam. But right now, we are really focusing on the little details and [I’m] trying to be the best I can be!”

The 11-year-old explained her goals to us. “My short-term goals are to make it to Level 9 Westerns in Spokane this season and to hit four for four consistently,” said Tenley. “Also, I want to have all of my Level 10 skills well before 2016. My long-term goals are to make it to elite and get a college scholarship! My ultimate goal is to go to the Olympics!” Tenley added that she is currently focusing on State Championships, Regionals, and Westerns.

Tenley’s goal is to become a Level 10 gymnast next year; at that level she wants to focus on form and getting bigger skills for the elite level. “I don’t want to rush into elite because I really want to have good form so when I do go elite, I will be successful!” Tenley remarked. “I would love to be focusing on elite by next summer, but this of course is all up to my coaches.”

Tenley added, “I tell myself every morning when I wake up that it is a new day and only you can control the outcome of it, so make it GREAT! This is one of my favorite quotes that inspires me… ‘Have a dream so big, no one believes you can achieve it, then be the one who CAN!’ My dreams and goals are often very big but that is what truly inspires me. I love being pushed every single day!”

 

CATALINA ESCOBAR GOMEZ: “SO EXCITED TO START PUTTING EVERYTHING TOGETHER”

Catalina Escobar Gomez is one of the top senior elite artistic gymnasts from Colombia. At the 2014 World Championships in Nanning, China, she placed 64th in the all-around and 15th on vault. “I really think my training is going very [well],” Catalina told Full Twist. “I’ve been working [on] some new skills on bars, beam, and floor and also [on] upgrading my second vault. I am so excited to start putting everything together and including the new skills in the routines. I am also happy because I feel much stronger and that keeps me healthy.”

A veteran of the sport, Catalina has competed at six World Championships, her first being the 2006 Worlds in Denmark. “My short-term gymnastics goals are to be the 2015 All-Around Colombian National Champion like I was last year; to be in the top five in all-around and medal on vault and floor in the Pan-Am Games; and the most important one is to reach my highest peak at Worlds because this will be the qualification for the Rio 2016 Olympics, which has been my long-term gymnastics goal for my whole life: [to] be an Olympian gymnast.”

Catalina’s road to Rio is well underway, having competed admirably at the Nanning Worlds. “My next competition will be the National Championship in Colombia [in] May,” she told us. “[In] this meet, there will be [the] choosing [of] the Colombian National Team that will be competing this year in the South American Championships, the Pan-American Games in Toronto, and the World Championships in Glasgow.”

On the subject of upgrades for 2015, Catalina said, “Since December of last year I have been working so hard [on] some upgrades like: some releases and full-out dismount on bars, [a] double layout on floor, a new series on beam and a layout half for my second vault.”

When asked if there was anything she’d like to tell the Full Twist readers, Catalina replied, “Since I’ve been here in the USA, I’ve realized how much people like to support our sport, and that is something that really amazed me, because in my country it’s not that way. Just a few people get to know about this wonderful sport and even less boys and girls get to practice it. So I would say everybody to encourage talented kids to practice and love gymnastics, and to keep supporting in any way all the gymnasts in the world; we are all part of the same ‘Gymnastics Family.’ ”

 

SARAH FINNEGAN: “THE NEXT STEP FOR ME IS COMPETING NCAA!”

Sarah Finnegan is a U.S. Level 10 artistic gymnast from St. Louis Gym Centre in Missouri. At the 2012 Olympic Trials, she placed sixth in the all-around and was named as one of three alternates to the Olympic team. “[My training has been] good!” Sarah told Full Twist. “Getting back out there and preparing for college.”

Sarah has been competing at some Level 10 meets this season, and she told us, “The next step for me is competing NCAA!”

The 18-year-old signed with Louisiana State University last November. “I had the great opportunity to receive offers from Oklahoma and LSU,” said Sarah. “Both are amazing schools with great girls and coaches, but I felt like LSU was the place for me. I am SO excited about signing with them! They have such an amazing team already and a very strong program that I cannot wait to be a part of. We have an awesome freshman class coming up next year, so be on the lookout!”

Since Sarah is a former elite gymnast, many fans are wondering if she’ll ever return to the elite level. “[I have] no definite answer,” Sarah replied when asked if she would try elite again. “I’ll leave that door open. Right now I am focusing on competing at the collegiate level.”

Sarah shared some of her best advice with us. “I have always been taught to set a goal; whether it’s a long-term goal or a short-term goal, you always have a goal,” she remarked. “When times get tough, just remember what your goal is and picture yourself accomplishing it! Also, don’t forget to give glory to the One who has given you the talent to do such an amazing sport! TGBG (To God Be Glorified).”

 

BALEIGH GARCIA: “THE HARDER YOU TRY, THE BETTER YOU WILL GET”

Baleigh Garcia is a U.S. HOPES gymnast from American Twisters in Florida. At the 2014 U.S. Challenge, she won vault and placed 5th in the all-around in the 11-12 age division. “[My training] has been going very well,” Baleigh told Full Twist. “I’m practicing in the gym six days a week. I’ve qualified [to compete at] the ranch in May for HOPES 12-13.”

Baleigh has competed a few new skills so far this year. “I [also plan on] competing a Ray on the high bar,” she noted.

The 12-year-old described her goals to us: “My short-term goal is to qualify for junior international elite this year, and my long-term goals are to go to a few elite competitions this year as well as [to] make the U.S. National Team.”

Baleigh added, “As a gymnast it is so important to remain focused and to stay calm. Never give up! The harder you try, the better you will get. Keep your head in the game and go for it!!”

 

ISABEAU KEENE: “J.O. WAS THE ROUTE FOR ME”

Isabeau Keene is a U.S. Level 10 artistic gymnast from Gymnastix in Buford, Georgia. She competed at the 2013 Regional Championships and the 2014 WOGA Classic. “My training has been going very well,” Isabeau told Full Twist. “I’m preparing for State [Championships] and then Regionals and hopefully J.O. Nationals!”

Earlier this year, Isabeau participated in an elite qualifying meet. “When I had first started off this Level 10 season things were going great,” she explained, “and when I went to my first qualifier I decided that J.O. was the route for me!”

Isabeau told us, “My long-term goal would to [be to] get a full-ride gymnastics scholarship and I already have few schools already looking at me!”

 

COURTNEY LOPER: “A SUCCESSFUL COLLEGIATE CAREER”

Courtney Loper is a U.S. Level 10 artistic gymnast from Chow’s Gymnastics in Des Moines, Iowa. She competed at the 2014 J.O. National Championships and won the all-around and floor exercise at the 2014 Level 10 Regionals. “Training has been going really well,” Courtney told Full Twist. “Besides having minor aches and pains, the training season has been great!”

Courtney told us about her gymnastics goals. “A short-term goal is to qualify to [the] 2015 J.O. Nationals and perform my best routines,” she said. “A long-term goal is to have a successful collegiate career at the University of Denver!”

The 17-year-old added, “Although elite has always been a major goal and dream of mine, I’m planning on staying with Level 10 for my last couple of years before college.  I really want to enjoy the rest of my club gymnastics experience and be able to keep myself healthy and ready for college.”

 

KAYTIANNA MCMILLAN: “FOCUSING EXTRA ON THE LITTLE DETAILS”

Kaytianna McMillan is a former U.S. Level 10 artistic gymnast who now competes in NCAA gymnastics at Oregon State University. “My individual training, along with my team’s training, has been going very well,” Kaytianna told Full Twist. “We have been working really hard in the gym and with postseason coming up, we have been focusing extra on the little details.”

When asked about her goals for the remainder of the 2015 season, Kaytianna replied, “Personally, my goal for the rest of the season is to be a reliable and consistent competitor on bars, beam and floor. Throughout the season, my team has focused on being limitless with everything that we do. A big goal that we have is to show the rest of the country just how limitless we are, especially in postseason competitions.” The sophomore told us that she doesn’t plan to continue gymnastics after college.

Kaytianna added, “I think that the Oregon State gymnastics team has a lot of potential and we are going to show everyone just how competitive we can be!”

 

KATELYN OHASHI: “I AM THE HAPPIEST I HAVE BEEN IN A LONG TIME”

Katelyn Ohashi is a U.S. Level 10 artistic gymnast from WOGA in Plano, Texas. She was the 2011 U.S. junior national champion and won the 2013 AT&T American Cup title. “Training is going really well,” Katelyn told Full Twist. “I’m enjoying myself and [having] fun with the sport.”

After a long break from gymnastics due to injuries, Katelyn made her competitive return in January and competed in several Level 10 meets. She also recently committed to UCLA. “I don’t know what will be happening as far as elite is concerned!” Katelyn told us. “So I guess we will see!”

When asked what she’d like to tell the Full Twist readers, Katelyn replied, “I guess I would say that during my two years out I learned a lot about everything. I learned how fast things can happen and change and I didn’t really know what was going to happen. I believe that things happen for a reason and right now I am the happiest I have been in a long time. So I guess when things don’t turn out the way you thought they would it’s not the end of the world, and if it’s something you really love don’t give up.”

 

BRITTANY ROGERS: “THE CHALLENGE TO PURSUE ELITE GYMNASTICS”

Brittany Rogers is a former Canadian elite artistic gymnast who now competes in NCAA gymnastics at the University of Georgia. “My training has been going great,” Brittany told Full Twist. “I feel as though I am making huge progress in the gym post-surgery, and getting more consistent in the gym every day. I’ve started to play around with old elite skills, which may possibly be added to my routines in the future!”

Before her NCAA career, Brittany competed at the 2012 London Olympic Games, finishing seventh in the vault final and helping the Canadian team to finish fifth in the team final. She mentioned that she plans to return to elite soon. “I have been put back on the High Performance list for Canadian Nationals this May, so after NCAAs are complete, my focus will be on Canadian Nationals. My goal with returning to elite is just to help out Team Canada wherever they might need me. I still have a drive and fire inside of me that wants the challenge to pursue elite gymnastics again.”

When asked about her goals for the rest of the season, Brittany replied, “My goals for the rest of the season are to stay consistent with my routines and scoring, and for my team to make Super Six at nationals. We have been working so hard in the gym, and I know all of our hard work will pay off really soon. A personal goal of mine for NCAA is to make an individual final. I have not yet made a final so far in my collegiate career, so that is definitely something I am aiming for.”

Brittany told us that she doesn’t have any new skills in the works, but she’s brushing up on old elite skills, “particularly on bars and beam, in hopes of possibly bringing one or two of them into my routines for my senior season.”

 

JESSICA SAVONA: “THE 2016 OLYMPICS HAVE BEEN IN THE BACK OF MY MIND”

Jessica Savona is a former Canadian elite artistic gymnast who now competes in NCAA gymnastics for Louisiana State University. She was the first alternate for the 2012 Canadian Olympic team. “My training has been going very well,” Jessica told Full Twist. “I’ve been trying to push myself as hard as possible to eliminate all visible mistakes and deductions in my routines and maximize my chances at higher scores for the rest of the season and postseason.”

Jessica explained her goals for the rest of the 2015 season. “My goals are simply to go into all of the meets with confidence, excellence and minimal execution deductions as possible on my routines to ensure the best scores for the team,” she noted.

On the subject of new skills for the remainder of the year, Jessica told us, “I am hoping to update my vault to one I competed before college, and if not, then I hope to perfectly perform my various elements.”

When asked if she might ever return to elite gymnastics, Jessica replied, “That honestly depends on how my body holds up after college. The 2016 Olympics [have] been in the back of my mind, but right now I am fully focused on my college career and academics.”

Jessica added, “There’s no better feeling than knowing you have a team behind you with 100% confidence, love, determination, passion—girls who will have each other’s back no matter what. But we are more than just a team/group of girls; we’re all family.”

 

SUSAN-CAITLYN SEAVEY: “A TOTALLY DIFFERENT TEAM EXPERIENCE THAN GYMNASTICS”

            Susan-Caitlyn “Sui-Cai” Seavey is a former U.S. Level 10 artistic gymnast. At the 2014 Level 10 Regionals, she placed sixth on balance beam. She recently decided to retire from the sport of gymnastics. “Since I’ve been out of the sport, I joined several clubs at my school, picked up guitar (I already played piano), tried other sports, and have a couple jobs,” Sue-Cai told Full Twist. “I am able to stay after school now to partake in my school’s ‘Future Business Leaders of America’ club, as well as a writing club called The Muse, and International Club which concentrates on our exchange students. I was on the ski team this past winter! This was really fun, and a totally different team experience than gymnastics. While it was still an individual sport, there was a more momentous sense of ‘team’ and group work with a common goal. We would go up to the mountain, practice/compete, then go back to the school getting home late at night, so that part was similar to gymnastics; the hours of commitment. I am trying out for our spring track team and hopefully will get to try/compete pole vaulting and the 4X100 relay.”

The 17-year-old reflected on some of her favorite competition memories from her long career. “I loved the Team Challenge meet in Connecticut,” said Sue-Cai. “One because they had event finals which is always motivational and fun, but also the march out made me feel special; it was like a model runway and I think we all felt appreciated in those moments. I also loved traveling in general. We went to the Chicago meet three times and this year in February when I saw pictures of my friends and old teammates there and I was home shoveling it was bittersweet. My family had the car ride, plane flight, check into hotel routine to a T, and I consider that a useful life skill I won’t forget. I also remember the nervousness before Regionals, but also the excitement, so much adrenaline. I don’t think I’ve felt that way since my last momentous meet, and I can’t really imagine what could induce that feeling again—it was special. And after when you went on to Nationals and you walked into those meets you had less nervousness and more a sense of pride and ownership like ‘I did the gymnastics to get here and be with the best of the best, I get to share this with equally talented gymnast’. I loved these feelings because they were so strong and clear; whereas even with my skiing I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t as thrilling, there wasn’t the passion that I had for gymnastics.”

When asked if she might ever return to competitive gymnastics, Sue-Cai responded, “I’ve thought about it, but now heading into my senior year and knowing I’d have to pick up at Level 10, I’m not sure I’d have time or maybe more truthfully, if my body could handle it. [I’ve] put some thought into colleges though, and if the school that I choose has an intramural gymnastics program I may try that out for fun, or if it’s an NCAA team, I could maybe be a manager or assistant in some manner. I have helped at meets since retiring and am still involved and up-to-date with the gymnastics community, and I’d like to be for as far forward as I can currently think/plan.”

Sue-Cai added, “I don’t regret retiring, it was time. I had been injured for years and found myself wondering more and more often what it would be like to not have gymnastics and what I would do with the extra time. But it was a super tough decision on the whole family, and in a way I feel worse for my parents having to go through this than I do about not having the sport myself. But it was the right decision and while they took some convincing, and time, in the end you just know. I wouldn’t recommend retirement though, while it’s nice and I’m enjoying my time, I enjoyed it before too. I don’t have reservations about my choice, but just think really hard before making any decisions. I never realized how big a part of my life my teammates and coaches were till they weren’t there anymore. I imagine it’s what your first heartbreak feels like. I stopped for the better, but only realized how much of an impact it had on me when it was gone and now knowing I could never get it fully back I’m content to [move] on and try new things, but that doesn’t mean I don’t notice or do things every day that don’t remind me of the past.”

 

CELINE VAN GERNER: “MAKING PROGRESS EVERY WEEK”

Céline van Gerner is a senior elite artistic gymnast from the Netherlands. At the 2014 World Championships, she placed 33rd in the all-around and helped her team finish 10th. “[My training is] going really well,” Céline told Full Twist. “I’m definitely making progress every week.”

A veteran of three World Championships and one Olympic Games (London 2012), Céline still has more goals in gymnastics. “[My] short-term goals will be having all my skills back [that] I used to be doing,” Céline explained. “At last Worlds, I finished bars [and] beam with a C-[level dismount]. Last month at the WOGA Classic I competed for the first time since the Olympics [with] both events with D-[level dismounts]. I [fell] on my full-in dismount at the end of my bars routine. So I’ve got some work left to do. I came too short in conditioning to finish it on my feet. Long-term goals: Being at the Olympics with a team! That’s something that never happened before, and we do have a chance to make it this time!”

Céline noted that she is hoping to debut some new skills in 2015, but she is still not sure which ones will be revealed. “Probably [they] will be on floor/beam,” she said. Céline’s next competition will be at the end of April, “because that’s when the trials for the European Games will be held.”

 

LAURA WAEM: “BUILDING UP MY EXERCISES”

Laura Waem is one of the top senior elite artistic gymnasts from Belgium. At the 2014 World Championships, she placed 27th in the all-around and helped her team to an 11th-place finish. “My training is going well,” Laura told Full Twist. “I’m building up my exercises in order to prepare for the upcoming competitions. Combining it with school takes a lot of effort, energy and time, but it’s definitely worth it.”

On the subject of her gymnastics goals, Laura told us, “My short-term goal definitely [is] to participate in the European Games in Baku this June, and my long-term goal is [for our team] to reach the top 16 in Glasgow, to participate in the Olympics.”

Laura is not sure when her next competition will be. “Normally my first competition is the Flanders International Team Challenge in Ghent (30-31 May 2015),” she explained. “As I’m struggling with an injury on my foot now, my participation will depend on my health. If participating is too risky because of the injury, I prefer to give it a little more rest and to be able to participate in good condition in more important competitions.”

Laura noted that she doesn’t have any new exercises at the moment, but she is working on new elements. “And when I’m ready with [them], they’ll be added to my exercises,” she told us. “I won’t tell which elements I’m working on, that’s a surprise and you’ll probably see it at the European Games or the World Championships!

When asked if there was anything she’d like to tell the Full Twist readers, Laura replied, Laura replied that the Belgian team is working hard to pick a team selection for the Olympics, and we should all keep our eyes on them!

 

EMIKO WILKS: “THE IMPORTANCE OF PERSEVERANCE AND DEDICATION”

Emiko Wilks is a U.S. Level 10 artistic gymnast from Gold Cup Gymnastics in Albuquerque, New Mexico. At the 2014 Region 3 Championships, she competed on three events (bars, beam, and floor). She also placed second in the all-around at the 2014 Gold Cup Invitational. “I’m excited to be getting back to full training again after surgery to replace a torn ACL last summer,” Emiko told Full Twist. “It was a long eight months, but it’s great to be back and I’m happy that my skills are all coming back quickly. Last month I competed bars in Utah and then two weeks later bars and beam in San Jose.”

Emiko told us, “I’m a senior this year and hope to participate in college gymnastics next year.” She also mentioned that she’s hoping to add a full over into her double on uneven bars.

When asked what she’d like to tell the readers, Emiko said, “As a high school senior I’ve realized how important it is to enjoy what you’re doing and find motivation to work through the hard times so that you can get back to the good times. I feel lucky to have had support from my coaches, family, and friends to stay in the sport. I think gymnastics has taught me the importance of perseverance and dedication.”

Special thanks to all the gymnasts for chatting with us! Stay tuned for Part 18, which will include updates with Mai Murakami, Ruby Harrold, and others!

Image: Dinah Jean Whistler

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