Elite and NCAA Gymnast Training Updates—Part 19


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.

Kirsten Beckett, Kaitlyn Bertola, Sofie Bråten, Kianna Imani Dean, Claire Gagliardi, Nastasya Generalova, Allison Jahns, Alaina Kwan, Enus Mariani, Kailey Miller, Anya Olson, Savannah Schoenherr, Agnes Suto, Ava Verdeflor, Ally Wesoly, and Millie Williamson provided us with thoughtful insights into their training.


Kirsten Beckett is one of the top senior elite artistic gymnasts in South Africa. At the 2013 World Championships in Antwerp, Belgium, she placed 43rd in the all-around. She did not compete in the 2014 Worlds due to an injury. “I was given the go-ahead to do very light sessions by my biokineticist and physiotherapist in late January 2015, to ensure that we really phase in and prepare the shoulder for the hard work that lies ahead,” Kirsten told Full Twist. “My coaches, Ilse Pelser, Glen Hlongwane and myself have set out a sensible plan to get me back to my best by June 2015. As of [March 11th] my shoulder is at full strength and I am going to start increasing the workload on all apparatus in the upcoming week.”

Kirsten described her goals to us. “Realistically, I would like to get back to where I was at end of last year, when the African Championships concluded,” she noted. “I am hoping that I can achieve this by May 2015. This is just a month prior to our National Championships to be held in June, where I hope to give a good account of myself, and successfully defend my title. With the Olympic qualifiers a few months away, I simply have to be ready to compete well at Worlds this year, [and] to qualify for the test event in the first quarter of 2016. Representing South Africa in Rio next year is the ultimate goal for me and I am going to do everything I can to achieve this.”

On the subject of new skills for 2015, Kristen explained, “The immediate need right now is to get back and refine my skills as of last year. I am hoping to have a few new elements included in all apps in 2016.” Kirsten’s next major competition will be the South African National Championships in June.

When asked what she’d like to tell the Full Twist readers, Kirsten said, “! I would like to thank the gymnasts and supporters that follow me on social media for their support and words of encouragement during my recovery! You have absolutely no idea how much this means to me and how it has helped me through these few months! It is going to be a very interesting and exciting few months ahead with my shoulder back to playing its part again!”



Kaitlyn Bertola is a U.S. Level 9 artistic gymnast from American Gymnastics Training Center in Connecticut. She recently qualified to the Level 9 Eastern Nationals in Florida. “My training has been going really good,” Kaitlyn told Full Twist. “Throughout the season I have had some minor setbacks with small injuries but I was able to come back strong and quick. Recently at the Pink Invitational I was able to receive my highest Level 9 all-around score, which was a 36.05 and I came in 2nd place. I hope to improve on my skills and form, but overall I feel good about where I stand.”

Kaitlyn noted that one of her short-term gymnastics goals is to upgrade her skills. As for long-term, she told us, “Right now I am working on a tucked full-in dismount and I hope to compete it next season. My long-term goals are to get a Division I college scholarship for gymnastics. I also hope to be able to train elite and test one day.”

The 13-year-old added, “My favorite event is beam. I’ve always had the easiest time with it and I’ve always loved the event. One day I wish to coach gymnastics. I want to go to college for physical therapy to become a physical therapist and have a major in sports medicine. I am also a very energetic girl and have a bubbly personality.”



Sofie Bråten is a senior elite artistic gymnast from Norway. She competed at the 2014 Nanning World Championships, and recently finished 69th in the all-around at the 2015 European Championships. “My short-term goal is to win the Norwegian Championships and qualify for the World Championships,” Sofie told Full Twist. “My long-term goal is to qualify for Rio 2016.”

On the subject of new skills for 2015, Sofie explained, “This year I have finally gotten all of the requirements in bars; bars has been my weakest event for a long time. Also I am twisting my yurchenko now, which is new for me. I am also trying to increase my difficulty in floor. Hopefully by the end of this year I will have a double tuck with full twist as my opening [tumbling pass].”

Sofie shared some great advice: “My favorite quote [is]: ‘She believed she could, so she did.’ A great part of gymnastics is mentality; this quote reminds me that I actually have to believe that I can do something myself before there is any point in trying.”



            Kianna Imani Dean is an aspiring elite gymnast from the Bahamas. She trains at Park Avenue Gymnastics in Cooper City, Florida. “Training for 2015 has been very interesting for me,” Kianna told Full Twist. “I had the privilege to train both USAG (USA Gymnastics) and FIG (Federation of International Gymnastics) thus far and it was quite exciting. The two systems are different in terms of scoring and even skill values so it is very fascinating working with them.”

If Kianna reaches her goal of going to a World Championships or Olympic Games, she will be the first to do so for the Bahamas in artistic gymnastics. “In August of 2014 I had the opportunity to compete for the Bahamas in the Pan American Championships in Mississauga, Canada,” she explained. “It was truly one of the most memorable experiences of my life. Being among the first gymnasts from the Bahamas to ever compete at a competition [of] this caliber was an experience I [will] never forget. I loved that I was able to meet so many amazing gymnasts from so many different countries. Some were much older than I was, some did not speak any English, [but] some gymnasts even spoke up to three languages. It was such an honor being able to compete with such a diverse group of young adults and even some Olympians.”

Kianna told us about her gymnastics goals. “I set short-term gymnastics goals daily in practice; as I move from event to event I just try to focus on completing the assignment and making that work out better than the previous ones,” said Kianna. “As for long-term goals, my main goal as of now is to compete and represent the Bahamas again.”

When asked about her next competition, Kianna explained, “My USAG competitive season is now over so I don’t have any other competitions for those. However I am in the running for being either the competitor or the alternate for the Pan American Games in July 2015.”

18-year-old Kianna added, “I would just love to encourage the Full Twist readers to continue to follow your dreams and your heart, whether it [is] in gymnastics or something else. Always do what makes you happy.”



Claire Gagliardi is a U.S. Level 10 artistic gymnast from Olympic Dreams Gymnastics, Inc. At the recent 2015 Region 5 Championships, she tied for third place in the all-around. “My training has been going very well,” Claire told Full Twist. “I have been working on upgrades all year.”

Claire explained her gymnastics goals: “My long-term goals are to qualify to nationals every year and to win a national championship. I also would like to win an NCAA National Championship with my team.”

When asked if she might try elite gymnastics, Claire told us, “I competed in the 2013 U.S. Challenge in the HOPES division. I attended three Developmental Camps at the Ranch. I have tested for Junior International Elite and continue to train to achieve my compulsory score. I have learned to never give up on my dream; to have the confidence to keep trying!”

Claire, who is 14, added, “I am a freshman at Hubbard High School and take 3 honors classes in which I currently have a 4.0. I have committed to the Ohio State University on a full athletic scholarship. I am very excited to be a Buckeye and contribute to the team. One of the reasons I chose to be a Buckeye was [because] when I was eleven days old, I had heart surgery at Nationwide Children’s Hospital [in] Columbus, where I was born and OSU is affiliated.  I look forward to the day I can give back and to be hope for young kids and their families.”



Nastasya Generalova is a U.S. Rhythmic Junior National Team member who trains at California Rhythms. At the 2014 USA Gymnastics Championships, she placed 5th in the all-around, and she recently placed 2nd in the all-around and won the hoop gold at the 2015 Rhythmic Challenge. “My training has been going well so far,” Nastasya told Full Twist. “I am working on my routines and always working on my elements, tosses, and making my routines as clean as possible.”

The 15-year-old described her gymnastics goals: “My short-term gymnastics goals [are] to be the best I can during practices and competition, which means personal excellence and striving for it. Also, when I am in the moment of my routines, I want to make sure I feel the music with…my body. My long-term gymnastics goals [are] to one day maybe [compete in] the Olympics and have the honor to represent USA, but my main goal is to be the best I can be and strive for personal excellence throughout my gymnastics career.”

On the subject of new skills, Nastasya told us, “For now, I am working on my routines and my own personal elements to master them, nothing new for now, but in the summer, I will be working on many new elements and tricks for [the] upcoming year.”

Nastasya added some great advice. “I want to say to always be yourself and work your hardest on what you are trying to achieve,” she commented. “If you never try, you will never get what you want, so hard work is key. Also, always be who you are, don’t try being somebody else, because when there is only one type of you in the [whole] world, so when you try to be somebody else, people will not be interested in you, because they want somebody different and unique.  So be different and embrace. You were born to stand out, not to fit in.”



Allison Jahns is a U.S. Level 10 artistic gymnast from Energym Gymnastics in Sycamore, Illinois. At the 2015 Level 10 Regionals, she placed 20th in the all-around. “My training has been going pretty well,” Allison told Full Twist. “I’m just working on improving my form and consistency as I near the end of my season. I have had to significantly limit the number of skills and routines that I’m doing in practice lately due to some shoulder pain I’ve been having, but I’m making the numbers that I am able to do count.”

Allison described her gymnastics goals. “My short-term gymnastics goals are to qualify for Nationals for the first time and to secure a spot on a college gymnastics team,” she remarked. “My long-term goals are to contribute as much as I can to my college gymnastics team by improving my gymnastics and supporting my teammates.”

When asked if she might try elite gymnastics, Allison replied, “I think it is a little too late for me to try elite gymnastics; I would have had to start training for that many years ago. Right now, I’m just going to try to be a successful college gymnast.”

The 18-year-old added, “I assume most Full Twist readers are gymnasts so I’ll just give a few words of advice and motivation. Gymnastics is unquestionably one of the toughest sports out there, both physically and mentally. It is constantly requiring you to push through your fears and physical pain, and it is always testing your limits. It may seem difficult to keep up with everything that gymnastics demands of you, and sometimes it might seem like it’s not worth it to keep doing gymnastics. As someone who has been through many injuries, mental blocks, and just about everything else gymnastics can throw at someone, let me tell you that it is worth pushing through it. It’s worth it for the adrenaline of doing a new skill, the feeling you get after hitting a routine at a meet, or the feeling you get after overcoming a fear of a skill, and it’s especially worth it because it shows you how strong you really are and that you are capable of more than you could ever imagine. There is no other sport that will give you the adrenaline and capabilities that gymnastics gives you. You could have three weeks of practice where you just can’t seem to get your timing or you just aren’t doing well, but getting through that and having one good day, where you land every skill perfectly and everything seems to happen naturally, instantly makes pushing through those three weeks completely worth it. Gymnastics has made me into the person I am today by pushing me farther than I ever thought I could go, and I wouldn’t change my decision to stick with gymnastics through the ups and downs for anything. So stay with it and give it everything you’ve got, because you are strong and you deserve it.”



 Alaina Kwan is a U.S. senior elite artistic gymnast from All Olympia Gymnastics in California. She recently competed at the 2015 Level 10 Regionals, placing third in the all-around. “My training has been going well,” Alaina told Full Twist. “I have been working on new skills and connections to upgrade my routines.”

Alaina’s goals for this elite season are “to have fun and to do my best in this very competitive field,” she told us. “I will take this experience day by day and see what the future holds. Also, I am already verbally committed on a full-ride scholarship to the University of Kentucky for gymnastics, so that is what I will be doing after my elite career.”

The 17-year-old qualified to the elite level earlier this year. “Honestly, I didn’t think I was going to make elite due to my age and the fact that I didn’t try to do junior elite,” Alaina explained. “My intentions at the qualifier were to just get the compulsory out of the way and to try my best in optional. When I found out that I got the score I was thrilled!” She added that her next elite competition will be in July at the Secret U.S. Classic.

Alaina had some great advice to share: “I would like to say to the Full Twist readers to never give up on your dreams. Maybe you are a gymnast like me who wants to be elite but is older and didn’t do junior elite before either. Never doubt yourself because I started to feel that way but look at what has happened! I made it, and if I could do it then other gymnasts can do it too!”



 Enus Mariani is a senior elite artistic gymnast from Italy. She was the 2012 European Junior All-Around Champion and recently competed at the 2015 City of Jesolo Trophy. “Training has been going really well, thank you,” Enus told Full Twist. “I’m training a lot!”

Enus chatted with us about her goals for the future. “My goals? I have a lot of them but I try to live day by day, I train like crazy and hopefully we will see the results one day,” she said. “By the way, some of my goals are…putting the new skills I’m working on into my routines meet after meet, and trying to get more international assignments and to be named for the Worlds team.” Enus mentioned that she’ll perform some new skills later on this year.

Enus added, “Thanks for reading this little interview! And thanks for the interest you showed [in] me.”



Kailey Miller is a U.S. Level 10 artistic gymnast from Premier Athletics in Lexington, Kentucky. She recently qualified to the 2015 J.O. National Championships. “Training has been going really well for me,” Kailey told Full Twist. “Right now I’m really working on cleaning up all my skills and just trying to make them look as good as I can for competition.”

Kailey told us about her gymnastics goals: “Some short-term goals for me would be, since I just qualified to nationals, to be able to place in the top 10 on any event. Another short-term goal would be to be able to compete and contribute to the team next year at CMU. A long-term goal would be to make it to NCAA Nationals as an individual or with my team.”

Kailey added, “I don’t think I will be going on to elite gymnastics. I have already signed with Central Michigan so I plan on finishing my career there.”



Anya Olson is a former U.S. Level 10 artistic gymnast who now competes in NCAA gymnastics at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. “My training has been going pretty well,” Anya told Full Twist earlier in April. “It’s hard sometimes to fit it in during the season when we have a meet every weekend.”

Anya’s career-high all-around score from 2015 was 37.650; she was also named ECAC Rookie of the Week on March 10th, 2015.

The freshman added that she’s “not going to continue my gymnastics career after college.”



Savannah Schoenherr is a U.S. Level 10 artistic gymnast from Georgia Elite Gymnastics. She recently qualified to the 2015 J.O. National Championships. “My training has been going super well!” Savannah told Full Twist. “I have been working several new skills since being at Georgia Elite. I am working a double full on vault and some new releases on bars with connections to prepare for elite.”

Savannah told us about her gymnastics goals. “My short-term goal for gymnastics is to qualify elite and my long-term goal for gymnastics is to be a successful college gymnast at Auburn!” She added that she hopes to qualify elite at the May Elite Qualifier.

“Gymnastics is an extremely hard sport, physically and mentally, and sometimes you just want to give up,” said Savannah. “My advice to all gymnasts is to keep going and keep fighting for your goals, even when it gets rough!”



Agnes Suto is a senior elite artistic gymnast. Prior to moving to Finland, she competed for her native country of Iceland at two World Championships (2011 and 2013). “After my last competition before moving to Finland, I announced my ‘retirement’ from the National Team, as I did not know what to expect from the future,” Agnes told Full Twist. “My first priority was to able find a secure job and start acting like an adult. I had to settle down and figure out if I [could] balance my trainings with my coaching job here in Helsinki. It has been good so far! I have been training in the mornings and working as a coach during the afternoons. After spending five months in my new ‘home’ I am able to start planning ahead and of course, training more. To be honest, it’s really hard emotionally not to be able to train as much as I would love to, but life happens to all of us.”

Agnes explained her gymnastics goals. “I will be going to Békéscsaba, Hungary in July, for a month and train with my friend Dorina Böczögö,” she commented. “I’ve been going there every summer for the past five years. I call it ‘my rehab’, because there, I am able to focus on gymnastics and nothing else, but still be around good friends and relax. It might sound weird that I choose to have a camp instead of going on a real vacation, but being in Békéscsaba, especially at the gym, gives me such joy. It’s so lovely. After that, I am planning to take part [in] competitions here in Finland and if my chances seem good, I would like to try out for Worlds this year.”

When asked about her next competition, Agnes replied, “I will take part [in] the Finnish Championships in May, and perform a beam routine. It’s for no one else but myself, as I really miss competing.”

The 23-year-old tried out some new skills in January, she hasn’t been able to do much repetition “due to lack of training hours.” She added, “When summer starts, I will work on getting all my skills back, old and new.”

When asked what she’d like to tell the Full Twist readers, Agnes responded, “As I’ve been away from international competitions this year, I am super thankful for all the gymnastics fans out there who has been providing all kinds of updates. That way it has been really easy to keep up with gymnastics news. For the people who expected me to be out there, in good shape, I apologize. I love this sport, and I wish I could be able to do it forever, but I’ve hit a speedbump in my life, and when I’m over it, I will do my best, for my own happiness, and others as well. I’ve learned so much through gymnastics and I found so much joy in it that I got very strong-minded and serious about gymnastics coaching, so I can forward all the positive things to as many kids as I can. I’ve been getting good feedbacks from children and parents, so they seem to like my technique of teaching. So long story short, I might have disappeared for a while, but I will be back!”



Ava Verdeflor is a senior elite artistic gymnast from the Philippines who trains at WOGA Gymnastics in Plano, Texas. She competed at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games; she also competes as a U.S. Level 10 gymnast and recently qualified to the 2015 J.O. National Championships. “My training has been going well,” Ava told Full Twist. “I’m currently preparing to compete in Singapore at the Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games) which will be held from June 5-16, 2015. My coaches and I have been working to upgrade some of my routines.”

When asked to name her gymnastics goals, Ava replied, “My short-term goal right now is to do well at the SEA Games and hopefully bring home a medal for the Philippines. My long-term goal is to qualify to Rio and represent the Philippines, and compete for Penn State in NCAA when I go to college.”

Ava noted that she is not working on any “big” upgrades, but she said “I have been working on my double front dismount on bars and I feel that I am ready to compete with it.”

Ava added that she would like to share this quote with the Full Twist readers: “ ‘Talent can only get you so far. Work hard every day and you can achieve whatever goal you set. Some goals may seem unreachable, but nothing is impossible if you believe in yourself and work hard for it.’ ”



Alexandra “Ally” Wesoly is a U.S. Level 10 artistic gymnast from Southeastern Gymnastics in Weddington, North Carolina. She recently won the uneven bars bronze at the 2015 Regional Championships. “Training has been going really well!” Ally told Full Twist. “I moved to North Carolina in December 2013 and started at Southeastern in the beginning of 2014. Since then I have learned so much from being around such great teammates and coaches. At first for me it was intimidating training with girls with such a high level of gymnastics because they are so strong physically and mentally to train the way they do. After a year I started to get a hang of things and started working harder than I thought I ever could. The coaches have pushed me to my limits and they still do. Having such great girls in the gym (all 20 of them on the Level 10 team) makes it a little easier to train but it is meet season, so we have been going pretty hard for the past few months. Ludmilla, Galina, Egor, and all the other coaches really prepare us during training so we can do well during competitions.”

Ally noted her gymnastics goals: “Every day I go into the gym, it is a goal to get better each day and take it one day at a time. Putting in a new dismount on bars is a goal of mine also. My long-term goals are to stay healthy for the rest of my J.O. career and through college. I am going to Towson University in 2016 and am so excited to be a Tiger! My goals there are to help the team win a conference title and make it to Regionals!” She added, “I don’t think elite gymnastics is something I will try but I am so excited for college gymnastics!!”

The 17-year-old also told us, “Something I would like to tell the Full Twist readers is when you want to give up, just try one more time because sometimes that is all it takes. Also, hard work pays off, even though it might not seem like it at first. Just keep on going no matter what. Always stay positive, I know it’s hard, but trust me, it’ll be worth it. Lastly never stop being yourself, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks or says; you are beautiful.”



Millie Williamson is a senior elite artistic gymnast from New Zealand. At the 2014 Youth Olympic Games, she placed 19th in the all-around. “My training is going well,” Millie told Full Twist. “It’s been pretty relaxed up until a few weeks ago, when we started getting back into doing routines.”

On the subject of new skills for 2015, Millie told us, “I’m hoping to compete [a] double twist forward and 1 ½ to 2 ½ on floor this year. [I’m working on a] split change ring on beam, and [a] double pike dismount off bars. Hopefully eventually, [I will train a] full-in back out dismount off bars. I’m also working yurchenko 1 ½ twist into [the] pit but I don’t think that will be ready to compete this year.”

Millie described her goals in gymnastics: “My short-term goals are to make the NZ Worlds team this year and to get some overseas experience. My long-term goals are to go to the 2016 Olympics and get a college scholarship.”

Stay tuned for Part 20!

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