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.
Jah’Liyah Bedminster, Casey Betts, Natalie Cupero, Alysen Fears, Tiri Hughes, Laney Madsen, Noémi Makra, Larrissa Miller, and Meilin Sullivan provided us with thoughtful insights into their training.
JAH’LIYAH BEDMINSTER: “BACK IN THE GYM TRAINING HARD”
Jah’Liyah Bedminster is a U.S. Level 10 artistic gymnast from Georgia Gymnastics Academy in Lawrenceville, Georgia. At the 2015 Region 8 Championships, she placed 24th in the all-around. “My training has been going very well,” Jah’Liyah told Full Twist. “I ended my 2015 season at regionals with a few mistakes. I am back in the gym training hard and trying to improve on my techniques, difficulty, and consistency. My coaches Mrs. Judy, Mrs. Mandy, and Ms. Annette continue to push me to my limits and are getting me prepared for the 2016 season.”
On the subject of gymnastics goals, Jah’Liyah explained, “My short-term gymnastics goal is to qualify to J.O. Nationals. Long-term goal is to get a college scholarship to a Division I college.” Her next competition will be in January at the Ozone Invitational.
Jah’Liyah, who is twelve, said that she would also like to give the elite path a try, so she won’t have any regrets. “For now I will continue to strive to do my personal best throughout my gymnastics career and see what the future holds.”
When asked what she’d like to tell the Full Twist readers, Jah’Liyah said, “Gymnastics is a very competitive sport. Every gymnast should know that they aren’t in competition with anyone. They shouldn’t have the desire to play the game of being better than anyone. They should simply try to be better than the person they were yesterday.”
CASEY BETTS: “LOOKING FORWARD TO THE COLLEGE GYMNASTICS ATMOSPHERE”
Casey Betts is a U.S. Level 10 artistic gymnast from Gold Medal Gymnastics in Arizona. At the 2015 J.O. National Championship is Des Moines, Iowa, she placed 19th in the all-around. “Right now, I’m slowly making my way back into gymnastics because I had two stress fractures in my foot,” Casey told Full Twist. “My short-term goal would be to get healthy and get back to doing everything in the gym. My long term goal would be to upgrade some of my floor tumbling and my bar dismount.”
The 18-year-old received a scholarship to the University of Minnesota, and she said, “I’m looking forward to the college gymnastics atmosphere!” Her next competition will be in January 2016 at the Arizona Grand Invitational.
Casey shared some advice: “I would tell [Full Twist] readers to go after what they believe in!!”
NATALIE CUPERO: “DO IT FOR YOURSELF”
Natalie Cupero is a U.S. Level 9 artistic gymnast from Dance Moves and Gymnastics in Indiana. In 2014, she competed at the Region 5 Level 8 Championships, and she also finished 5thin the all-around and won floor exercise at the 2015 Hollywood Legends meet. “Training has been going great for the most part!” Natalie told Full Twist. “I am getting in my upgrades before season starts! Other than a few injuries that have set me back, my skills are becoming more and more consistent!”
Natalie explained her gymnastics goals: “My short-term goals are to have a successful Level 10 season this year and finish off my senior year on a high note. My long-term goals are to help contribute to a college team and have the opportunity to coach later on.” She noted that her next competition will be this winter at the Justin Springs Invitational in Champaign, Illinois.
Natalie added, “Don’t let other people tell you what you can and cannot do. Whatever you set your mind to is what you should strive for. Don’t do something for someone else, do it for yourself.”
ALYSEN FEARS: “THE BEST I CAN BE”
Alysen Fears is a U.S. Level 10 artistic gymnast from SCEGA Gymnastics in California. She competed at the 2014 Level 9 Western Championships and placed ninth in the all-around at the 2015 OC Classic. “[I want] to be the best I can be each day and achieve the biggest skills I can,” Alysen told Full Twist.
On the subject of goals, Alysen told us that she would like to “stay injury-free for my next Level 10 season.” She also hopes to receive a full-ride scholarship, and might try elite gymnastics.
Alysen added, “Always believe in yourself and don’t allow fear to get in the way.”
TIRI HUGHES: “I ABSOLUTELY LOVE THE SPORT”
Tiri Hughes is a senior artistic gymnast and a member of the GBR Disability Gymnastics Team. She has won medals at National, British, and Welsh competitions. “I’m visually impaired (blind, sight impaired etc.) due to a number of different conditions, and I have less than 5% vision remaining (with glasses) in my good eye; the other one has no usable vision,” Tiri told Full Twist. “I also have a connective tissue disorder called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), which causes hypermobility, severe joint and muscle pain, poor muscle tone, frequent dislocations, weak skin, vascular (heart/blood vessels) problems and gastrointestinal (stomach) problems. This also causes a secondary condition, Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, which causes low blood pressure and fainting triggered by heat, postural changes and standing for too long. These conditions combined mean I can be rather wobbly! I use a white cane, and I’m currently on the waiting list for a Guide Dog! I also sometimes have to use a wheelchair or crutches when my body is particularly misbehaving! These conditions can make doing gymnastics tricky for me, but I absolutely love the sport and I’m determined to continue training and competing. Because of my sight loss, when I’m on beam, I can’t actually see it! I also can’t see the bars when I’m transitioning or the vault until I’m on top of it! I also can’t spot in somersaults or turns. I do everything by memory and counting—for instance, I start a set distance up the vault run and run 10 steps starting from my right foot before hurdle stepping onto the springboard. Most of the time I get it, but sometimes I miscount, which can be very scary! Sometimes I don’t catch the bar for the same reason, or I accidentally walk off the edge of the floor! My teammates are brilliant—we’re so close that they don’t even worry about it anymore, we just laugh it off and move on. Or we spend half of the session making blind jokes or laughing at me trying to pop joints back in! Unfortunately, due to my erratic health I can’t train as much as I’d like, but I enjoy it so much! And I’ve had some amazing opportunities! Last February I was honoured to be chosen by British Gymnastics to travel to South Africa alongside three coaches and one other gymnast. We travelled around the country spreading awareness of disability gymnastics and teaching teachers and coaches how to teach disabled gymnasts, as well as some amazing sightseeing in our little spare time! It was an incredible experience.”
The 16-year-old told us that in general, her training has been going very well, “although a few months ago I took my GCSE exams and had to take a short period out of training which set me back a little bit,” she explained. “I have recently got my round off flick (back handspring) on floor, which I was incredibly pleased about as I have struggled with that skill due to frequently dislocating my elbows. I’ve also managed to put a half turn in my straddle undershoot dismount from bars, which is also a skill I have struggled with due to not being able to spot the twist. I’ve also been working a lot on improving my strength, but mostly I have been preparing routines for my next competition.”
Tiri’s next competition will be the biggest of her entire year, the British Disability Gymnastics Championships in Manchester, UK on September 6th. “I’m fairly confident with vault and floor, but I’m a little worried about beam and bars!” she said. “I also can’t wait to see all of my friends from all around the country who also compete in disability gymnastics, we don’t get to see each other very often. We share many of the same battles as disability gymnasts so we’re really close.”
When asked about her goals, Tiri told us, “My short term-goal is to have a clean competition at British next week. Unfortunately, there is no Paralympic gymnastics due to the low number of countries who have national disability teams, but I hope to qualify and then compete at Echo one day, which is the highest disability gymnastics competition in the UK, where we compete alongside mainstream British gymnasts. Also, if we ever have an international competition I’d love to compete in that!”
Tiri is working on some new skills, such as a long upstart on bars. “I’m struggling with it as I find it very difficult to catch the high bar with straight arms due to not being able to see it, as well as my muscle tone problems getting in the way!” she noted. “I’m also very close to getting my free (aerial) cartwheel on floor, and I’m beginning to train a forward walkover on beam—currently I have it on a low beam.”
Tiri offered some great advice: “I think it’s really important that, as a gymnast, you stay determined through any problems you may have in your training or competition, be it a mental block, injury or setback. It’s something I’ve learnt throughout my gymnastics career; I’ve had my fair share of injuries (mostly dislocations!) and so many mental blocks I’ve lost count! But I always make sure I try my best. I know my conditions mean that my ‘best’ might be different to an able-bodied gymnast’s ‘best’, but that doesn’t bother me—I just want to reach as far as I can, knowing I have put in all the effort I possibly could! Also, if anyone has any questions about disability gymnastics, feel free to contact me!” She can be contacted at tirihughes[@] icloud.com.
LANEY MADSEN: “MOSTLY FOCUSING ON MY CONSISTENCY”
Laney Madsen is an aspiring elite gymnast who trains at Gym-Max in California. A former competitive cheerleader, Laney began training artistic gymnastics after being inspired by the 2012 Olympic Games. She has been invited several times to U.S. National Team Training Camps. “My training has been going great!” Laney told Full Twist. “I still have a lot to learn and work on, especially on bars and vault, but I am happy with my progress so far.” She noted that she’s been working on some upgrades here and there on each event, but she has been “mostly focusing on my consistency and form throughout my gymnastics.”
On the subject of goals, Laney told us, “My short-term goals are to improve on my form and consistency. My long-term goal is to make the 2020 Olympic Team.” Her next competition will be a local meet in California, so she can gain more competitive experience.
Laney wanted to tell our readers, “Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.”
NOÉMI MAKRA: “I WOULD LIKE TO MAKE IT TO THE OLYMPICS”
Makra is a senior elite artistic gymnast from Hungary. She competed at the 2013 and 2014 World Championships, and she just missed qualifying to the floor exercise final in 2013. “I’ve been doing a lot of basics, no routines yet,” Noemi told Full Twist. “I am also trying out some new elements and connections [to] see if I will be able to put them in my routines for the World Championships. It’s been going well so far.” Her next competition will be Hungarian Nationals early this fall, and then she will compete at the World Cup in Osijek and the Hungarian Grand Prix in Szombathely. “These will be my warm-up competitions for the World Championships,” she told us.
“Noémi’s physical condition and talent is great for gymnastics, she has always gotten extra attention because of it,” her coach Mihály Unyatinszki told Full Twist. “I’ve been coaching her for the past 10 years, lots of work has been put into her with the goal of reaching her very best with the right timing. Every skill and routine has been fitted to her ability for the best results. Aside of the hard work at the gym, all other activities such as school and personal life were adjusted, which is a sacrifice for the better, in every top athlete’s life, because talent is not enough by itself. The time has come, yet she still needs to gain her confidence when it comes to competition, and stay consistent, because that will be her way to succeed.”
The 18-year-old explained, “I have been practicing a new combination on bars, Maloney to Hindorff. On floor I plan to add a double layout into my routine and on beam and vault we are mostly working on consistency.”
Noémi described her short-term and long-term goals. “For now, we are working very hard to get our team together for Worlds; that is the most important at the moment,” she commented. “We want to do our best and see if we can make it to the top 16 in Glasgow. For [the] future, I would like to make it to the Olympics and if that works out, I will be working hard to earn a place in the all-around final there.”
Special thanks to Agnes Suto for arranging and translating this interview for us!
LARRISSA MILLER: “I WANT TO BE IN GLASGOW”
Larrissa Miller is one of Australia’s most prominent senior elite artistic gymnasts. She has competed at four World Championships (2009, 2010, 2011, and 2014), and she also competed at the 2012 Olympic Games. “I’ve only just got back into the gym full-time after having about 5-6 months off. I’m starting to get all my skills back, and I forgot how much I love to fly! My main focus at the moment is building my strength and fitness back up. I have to balance my numbers, push myself, but at the same time be mindful that I’m not as strong as I need to be just yet. That’s hard for me because I’m incredibly impatient!”
She is currently working on a few new uneven bars skills, and she’s trying to put together some connections. “I’m also trying to up my difficulty on my turns and leaps on floor,” she added. Her next competition will be the World Championships Trials.
Larrissa, who is 23, says that her short-term goal is making the Worlds team, although she admits it will be challenging because she’s had time off. “But I am so ready to take on this challenge,” she stated. “I want to be in Glasgow to help the team secure a spot in the Rio Olympics. My long-term goal is to make it to Rio (which isn’t so long term anymore!), I would really love to make it to a second Olympics. Another thing I would really like to do is compete in the 2018 Commonwealth Games held on the Gold Coast, I think it would be amazing to compete in front of a home crowd.”
MEILIN SULLIVAN: “HAVE A FUN, SUCCESSFUL SEASON”
Meilin Sullivan is a U.S. Level 10 artistic gymnast from Diamond Gymnastics Academy in Kansas. At the 2015 Western Championships, she placed ninth in the all-around. “My training has been going great,” Meilin told Full Twist. “Right now I am training for my first year of Level 10. I enjoy being able to work new and challenging upgraded skills. Last year early in the season I broke my foot but was able to be back by Regionals and qualify for Level 9 Westerns. At Westerns I placed 1st on bars, 3rd on beam, and 9th [in the] all-around.”
Meilin described her gymnastics goals: “My short-term goals are to upgrade my skills and have a fun, successful season. My long-term goals are to qualify for J.O. Nationals and to get a Division I college gymnastics scholarship. I feel fortunate to have had, and still have, outstanding coaches who care about my future and help me achieve my goals. My teammates are all high-level gymnasts who strive to make not only themselves better but our team as well. We all support and cheer each other on.”
The 13-year-old trained and tested for elite gymnastics last year, but she decided it wasn’t the path for her. “I’m glad I had the opportunity to try it so that I wouldn’t have any regrets,” she said. “I am now dedicated and hopeful to get a Division I college scholarship for gymnastics.” Her next competition will be in December.
Meilin added, “When I’ve been injured I try to stay positive, focus on staying motivated and returning to the sport I love. One of my favorite quotes is, ‘Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning how to dance in the rain.’”
Many thanks to all of the gymnasts for taking the time to answer our questions. Stay tuned for Part 23!
Image via Getty Images.