Enter fifteen year old, Riley McCusker--MG Elite's newest elite and rising star!
Riley got her start in gymnastics in a way that's different from most. At six years of age, she was actually taking swimming lessons, however she was always more interested in doing cartwheels into the pool rather than swimming. Naturally, Riley's mom signed her up for gymnastics classes instead and it's been her passion ever since.
Riley continued to grow and progress in the sport throughout the years. She looked up to 2012 Olympic Gold Medalist, Kyla Ross and idolized her for her "clean and beautiful lines." Eventually the idea of becoming an elite gymnast herself seemed within her reach. Riley also remembers watching Jazmyn Foberg and Laurie Hernandez have success in the elite ranks and knowing a gym change was necessary if she wanted to reach her full potential. "I knew that I had to make a change or my dreams would not be possible to reach," she said. "I knew that MG Elite is where I wanted to be because it's a small team environment and that is best for me." In October of 2015, Riley began training at MG Elite with the hopes of qualifying to the junior elite level, however, she knew she would have to make some sacrifices. That's why she lives with a teammate in New Jersey during the week so she can focus on her training. After practice on Saturday she heads back home to New Milford, Connecticut to spend the weekend with her family. On Monday morning, it's a two hour drive back to New Jersey in order to train with the best.
Training with the best means working alongside those girls she once looked up to-- who she now views as her second family. As members of the National Team, Laurie Hernandez and Jazmyn Foberg have been able to show Riley the ropes and help guide her through the in's and out's of elite competition. "Training along side Laurie and Jazzy in incredible because they are such great role models," she said. With their support, advice, and friendship; along with coach Maggie's guidance, Riley began to achieve the things she never imagined she would.
One of those things happened in March, when Riley's biggest dream became a reality, "Qualifying to elite this season was surreal to me," she recalled. "I had been dreaming of that moment ever since I knew what elite was!" However, obtaining elite status was only the beginning.
Riley's first elite competition was down at the Karolyi Ranch for the American Classic where she finished 5th all-around and third on beam. Her performance qualified her straight to the P&G Championships, however, she would first compete at the Secret Classic to gain more consistency with some new skills and get acquainted with competing on a podium. Riley brought a very competitive level of difficulty and performed well overall. Despite a fall on beam, she still finished 9th all-around and also finished fourth on bars. Her moment to shine was still to come.
Heading into the P&G Championships, Riley only had one expectation for herself-- to do exactly what she does in the gym. As a first year elite and a first year qualifier to Championships, not many eyes were on Riley to be a medal contender, however she was representing a gym that now has a history of producing some of the top junior elite gymnasts throughout the quadrennium, so there at least some expectations from the gymternet for her to perform well.
Riley did not disappoint, excelling over both days of competition and doing the job with confidence. With the way she attacked each event, you never would have guessed she was brand new to the scene, but Riley knew how much hard work she had put in and wanted to show that off, "It's fun to show of all your hard work and represent your team and coach." she said. At the conclusion of the meet, Riley had officially continued the success for MG Elite, finishing second on bars, beam, floor, and in the all-around. She also secured her spot on the junior national team-- the first national team since 2001 that will not be under the guidance of the legendary Martha Karolyi, who is retiring in August.
After such a strong first year of elite, Riley not only surprised the gymternet with her performances, but she admits she even surprised herself, "It feels amazing to do as well as I did because I wasn't expecting any of it." Riley told us. "I never knew that I could do it, but my coach Maggie was always telling me that I could." Another perk of being an elite gymnast? The fans! "I love competing in front of fans because I love to inspire other people to follow their dreams." she said.
When Riley is not in the gym training she's just being your average teenager who loves swimming, paddle boarding, hiking, playing with her dogs, and hanging out with friends. However, her time and dedication truly lies in the gym where she trains for over thirty hours a week. With her first year of elite in the books, she is in the gym working harder than ever to prepare for next season when she becomes a senior. Her goals are to add some upgrades and compete at the World Championships, "I know that on bars I am going to add some connections for next year and get my double on vault!" Riley added. Of course she has her eyes set on bigger things in the future as well--competing at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo and competing in college for the University of Florida. However, coach Maggie has other Olympic dreams she must first tend to. For the next several weeks she will be in Rio for the Olympics with Laurie Hernandez; Riley is eagerly awaiting her return, "I know I will learn so much, I can't wait until Maggie gets back from Rio!" she exclaimed.
Riley came to MG Elite inspired to reach the elite level, having seen what Maggie had done with Laurie Hernandez. Now as she watches them in Rio, she'll be dreaming of maybe, just maybe, having her own Olympic success in 2020.