Sunday, October 19, 2014

Dear Gymternet- Journals from Elena Arenas (Entry #5 October 2014)


Dear Gymternet, 

I've had really fun and exciting times this past month!  I was selected to represent the USA at the Pan American Gymnastics Union camp (PAGU) along with one of my best friends, Maile O'Keefe.  I also went on my very first recruiting trip to UGA.

When I found out I was going to PAGU, I was so excited!  I was at the ranch for camp last month when I found out and I couldn't wait until I could tell my mom!  I knew they were only selecting two gymnasts to go and I didn't know who the other person was until the next day and when they told me it was Maile I was super happy!  I texted Maile after gym that night and we were both wondering what it would be like and hoping that some of the girls will know English. Haha!


Elena with Maile O'Keefe


A few weeks later I got my USA apparel in the mail and it was so much fun opening up the box.  My dad/coach was out of town visiting family when it came and he wanted me to wait for him to open it, but I couldn't wait to see what was inside!  I got three USA leos, a shirt, a bag and shorts.  My dream of representing the USA was coming true!  I am going to keep training really hard the next couple of weeks so I can be as prepared as possible for PAGU.

Going on my first recruiting trip was very exciting!  It was at UGA and I couldn't wait to see the campus.  It was fun to share this experience with my teammate (Sami Durante).  First we watched the Gym Dogs workout, then we took a golf cart to go eat. Sami and I sat on the back of the golf cart which was fun because I've never done that!  We then spelled out a word using our bodies around campus.  The next day we went to the football game and then we all hung out afterwards.  It was so much fun and I hope to get to explore other colleges in the future!




Right now I am on my way to the ranch for developmental camp.  I'm very excited to show what I'm working and see all of my friends!  Right when we get there, I always run to the bulletin board to see who my roommates are.  Today I have physical abilities testing ... wish me luck! :)

~ Elena

Note: Elena wrote this while on her way to the ranch. Due to poor service in the area, this entry is a few days late. Elena is now back home and training for the PAGU camp!

Elena also received her "Triple Twist" t-shirt a few weeks ago. It may be a few sizes too big, but she still rocks it!


Saturday, October 18, 2014

10 Things You Don't Know About...Bailey Ferrer



1. I love seafood.
2. My favorite color is purple.
3. Country music is my favorite music.
4. I have to mark off my calendar every night.
5. I have three dogs and a cat.
6. I love scary movies.
7. I have a Friday leo and it's purple!
8. My favorite shoes are Jack Rogers.
9. I love watching Criminal Minds and Pretty Little Liars.
10. I can never have enough bathing suits!


10 Things You Don't Know About:
Sarah Finnegan
Laurie Hernandez
Ragan Smith
Ari Agrapides
Ellie Downie
Vanasia Bradley
Jazmyn Foberg
Deanne Soza


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Chalk It Up - The next gymnastics film is in the works!


Who doesn't love a little fictional gymnastics cinema action? As hardcore gym fans, we can't get enough of watching our favorite sport on the big screen. That's why we know all the lines to Stick It and Make it or Break it was our guilty pleasure every week. Well gym fans, get ready! There is a new movie in the works called Chalk It Up and it's bound to be a hit!


Apple with the Rugby boys.
The film was written by Maddy Curley who is best known for her role as Mina from Stick It. Maddy will star in the film as a "super girly girl" named Apple who's boyfriend is moving to England to play Rugby after finding out their Ivy League school is breaking Title 9. (Where there has to be an equal number of male and female sports.) Determined to win him and his rugby team back, Apple creates a gymnastics team. It works, but not for long. He dumps her and Apple is left to figure out what matters more now; her new team or boys.



Apple's gymnastics team is comprised with a few familiar faces in the gymnastics world. In addition to Maddy, who was a gymnast at North Carolina, the movie will feature Krista Jasper, (Former US national team member/University of North Carolina) Susan Jackson, (2010 NCAA Champion/LSU) Kim Jacob, (2014 NCAA Champion/Alabama) Britnee Habbib, (Canadian national team member) Jen Hansen, (1993, 94, & 95 NCAA Champion/Kentucky) and Tarah Paige. (elite in the 90's/ Tricia Skilken from Stick It) Unlike in Stick It, all these girls (except Kim Jacob) will actually appear in the movie rather than just being stunt doubles, so we can expect to see some good gymnastics! At the start of the movie the girls are just a group of misfits who have never done gymnastics, but eventually they get better and better and work their way to elite level skills. "The falls when they aren't good yet will be the really fun part!" Maddy joked.



The movie just wrapped up filming and the editing is expected to be finished by April of 2015. The distribution deal they get will determine when exactly the movie will come out and how fans can watch it. "I would love for it to be in theaters and I've always pictured it on  ABC Family." Curly said. Maddy was inspired to make Chalk It Up after realizing how many little girls couldn't watch Stick It or Make it or Break it because of the adult-like content. "I wanted to make a family friendly gymnastics movie." she said. As for her hopes for the movie, "I want it to be a staple in every gymnast's house so they can laugh and love watching the gymnastics over and over again." 

Monday, September 29, 2014

Buckeye's Dynamic Duo Aim Towards Rio

When Nia Dennis strolled into Buckeye Gymnastics at the age of nine, Kittia Carpenter knew she was something special. In all her years of coaching she had never seen a little girl who was so quick, fearless, and full of spunk. Nia's natural talent was also recognized by the national team staff at an early age. Kittia recalls watching her do the vertical jump during TOPS testing at the age of ten. Nia was immediately moved into the developmental program and in the watchful eye of Marta Karolyi.

Photo Credit: USA Gymnastics
Fast forward five more years and Nia is one of the top ranked elite gymnasts in the United States and a favorite heading into the 2016 Olympics. A junior elite since 2011, Nia has improved in the ranks each year and made it known that she would be a force around the world come Rio. One thing that sets Nia apart is her difficulty and how she attacks her skills. She currently has the highest difficulty of everyone in the junior division which makes it possible for her to place high in the standings even with mistakes. For example at the P&G Championships this year, she managed to place second all-around and just .450 behind the leader despite counting three falls. She also became the junior National Champion on her best events- vault and floor, which was the perfect way to end her junior elite career! There is no doubt that Nia is ready to make the jump into the senior division next year, however she won't be doing it alone.


Photo Credit: Chris Russell
As soon as Nia stepped foot into the world of elite gymnastics, the comparisons to Olympic Champ Gabby Douglas began. Just a few years later, the two are now great friends and find themselves training partners as they prepare for the 2016 Olympics. When Kittia Carpenter received a call from Gabrielle Douglas this past July, asking if she could train at Buckeye, she felt excited but also a little anxious. "I wanted to make sure it was something Nia and her parents thought would be good for Nia too," Kittia explained. "So before I had Gabby come workout I asked Nia her thoughts." Nia was excited to have Gabby come train with her, as was the rest of the team at Buckeye. "I think at first it was hard for them to believe that it was really "Gabby", but then she fit in so well, it seemed like she was apart of our team immediately." Kittia said.

There is no denying that Nia and Gabby are strikingly similar when it comes to their gymnastics style, however Kittia still sees differences between their personalities. "They are very similar in many ways and yet fairly different in others. Nia is a determined and hard working athlete. As a person, she is kind, caring, and loves to smile and make others laugh," Kittia said. "Gabby is a focused athlete with a goal-oriented work ethic. She is very kind, respectful, and appreciative in her words and actions. She always says thank you."

Photo Credit: Charlie Litchfield
It has now been a little over two months since Gabby joined Nia at Buckeye. Kittia says it's fun coaching two of the nation's top gymnasts. "Coaching an athlete with high goals that is motivated daily by achieving the goals of the workout makes the long hours of work feel worth it." she added. Kittia knows that Rio is on both of her athlete's minds and while she says it's "quite a responsibility to lead these two to their goals," there is no doubt that Gabby and Nia are on the right track. Despite not getting to compete this year, Kittia is pleased with Gabby's progress. "Gabby is doing great," she mused. "I'll let her share the news on her skills, but I can tell you that we are getting close to our start value goals on each event." As for Nia, she is working on confidence and consistency. Next year we can expect to see a new release and dismount on bars, a "few new skills" on beam to increase her start value, and a few tumbling passes that she has worked in the past that she hopes to bring back. "Nia is trusting her skills more and more," Kittia exclaimed. "She is more determined then ever and she is ready to make the transition to the senior division." Kittia hopes that Douglas and Dennis will have a successful national team camp next month and show Marta their improvements.

Photo Credit: Chris Russell

With the 2016 Olympics just two years away, Nia and Gabby are pushing each other every day to make it to the final stage. While they always offer each other quick words of encouragement throughout practice, Kittia has also seen them challenge each other with new skills or moving a skill to a connection. "If one does it, the other is close behind with a similar "push," Kittia explained. Right now it's one step at a time for Nia and Gabby has they prepare for what the next two years has in store. 2015 will be an important year for them both; it will mark Gabby's competitive return since winning two Olympic golds and it will be Nia's first year competing in the senior division, but still the goal remains quite simple. "Our goal is to be selected for a international competition in the Spring, then we hope to have a successful P&G Championship so we can be considered for the Worlds selection camp." Kittia stated. However looking at the big picture, Rio is the long term goal. Nia hopes to follow in the footsteps of her new training partner and friend, while Gabby is looking to do it all over again. If all goes as planned, the dynamic duo from Buckeye Gymnastics just may find themselves boarding the plane to Rio in 2016.


Friday, September 26, 2014

Julianne McNamara- Three decades after gold

Julianne McNamara was one of the pioneers for USA Gymnastics. At a time when the Soviets and Romanians dominated the sport, Julianne and her 1984 Olympic teammates paved the way for USA Gymnastics and proved themselves a force to be reckoned with. They set the stage for everything that USA Gymnastics is today and helped inspire a nation of young girls who would go on to do even bigger things. At the age of 14, Julianne became the 1980 National Champion and earned herself a spot on the 1980 Olympic team that would eventually boycott the games. An unfortunate situation for a young girl who seemed to be at her peak- but she didn't give up. Fast forward four years and Julianne found herself training alongside Mary Lou Retton with redemption in mind. Together they made the 1984 Olympic team and lead the United States team to a historic second place finish. At those games she also scored five perfect 10's and brought home the first ever individual event gold on uneven bars and a silver medal on the floor exercise. Upon retirement, Julianne took up acting and appeared in TV shows such as Charles in Charge and Knight Rider. She attended UCLA and stayed connected to the sport by doing TV commentary. The 1984 US Olympic team was recently honored at the 2014 P&G Championships and we caught up with Julianne to reflect on the games and life today. 

Photo Credit: Unknown


Can you talk about how you got started in gymnastics. What made you decide to stick with it for so many years?
My big sister Elizabeth was doing gymnastics and I wanted to be just like her! I started at the age of eight and had a natural ability for it. I immediately fell in love! It was that love and passion for the sport that kept me doing gymnastics for so long.

At what age did you realize that you had potential to be a star?
I never thought about being a "star" but it was obvious that I had a natural ability at the age of eight. When I was eleven years old, my goal and dream was to became an Olympian. I never thought about the Olympics when I first started out. It was only for fun.

Growing up, who did you idolize in the sport? Gymnastics wasn't very popular in the US during the 70's and early 80's so did you admire any international gymnasts?
The only gymnast I ever idolized was Nadia Comaneci. She was ahead of her time and truly embodied what gymnastics meant to me. She had it all... artistry, grace, power, technique and perfect form. To me, she is the Michael Jordan of gymnastics.

You won the 1980 US National title and of course made the US Olympic team that went on to boycott the games. Can you talk about the ups and downs of that time period? Did you feel like quitting after that?
In 1980, I was only fourteen years old and was so thrilled to be an Olympian. It was disappointing that we couldn't go to Moscow, but it motivated me to keep going and make a second Olympic team and be able to compete. As I got older, I began to realize the huge disappointment that boycott had on so many athletes. To this day, it saddens me that the Olympics became a pawn in politics. The Olympics has always been an event that transcends politics and brings the world and people together in the spirit of excellence and competition.

Of course in 1984 you made a second Olympic team and brought home three medals including the first ever US team silver medal and the first individual event gold! What was it like standing on the medal podium? What kind of things did you think about?
Standing on the podium at the Olympics was surreal. I remember thinking about everything it took to get there. All the hard work and the people that helped me get atop that podium. I remember feeling so proud to represent our country and being so grateful for all my teammates.

Photo Credit: Unknown


Going into the uneven bar final did you think you had a chance at winning? 
When I competed, I never thought about results- only about the routine and doing the very best one I could do at that moment. If I did that, I could walk away proud no matter what the results were!

How would you sum up your entire experience at the Olympics?
The entire Olympic experience was a high and something so special and different than any other experience in my life. It was really uplifting. I am so thankful for that!

The 1984 Olympic team was recently honored at the 2014 P&G Championships. What was it like being reunited with your teammates?
The recent 30 year reunion was a blast! It was our "high school reunion". Many of the girls have stayed in touch, but there were some of the guys I had not seen in probably 25 years so it was great catching up with everyone and reminiscing. We all have a lifelong bond that is so unique!

Photo Credit: USA Gymnastics


What kind of legacy do you feel that the 1984 Olympic team left on USA Gymnastics?
I think the 1984 team left the legacy that we were a force to be reckoned with and the USA wasn't going away any time soon!

After the Olympics you did a little bit of acting and attended UCLA. What was your acting experience like and did you ever consider doing college gymnastics instead? 
I never considered college gymnastics because I was busy after the Olympics with many different opportunities. I also needed more time to myself after so many years of such intense training. I loved acting though, it made me feel present in the moment like gymnastics did.

Looking back on your career, what was one of the funniest memories you have? Something you will never forget...
The only thing that stands out in my mind was when there was a power outage at the '84 Olympics... that was surreal!


Lastly, what have you been up to these days?
I am first and foremost a mother of four children. They are the loves of my life and such a blessing! Professionally, I have been drawn to creative outlets. I have dabbled in the fashion industry, home remodeling, and design.

 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Catching up with former National Team Member & Oklahoma Sooner Natasha Kelley

During the 2008 Olympic quadrennium, Natasha Kelley was easily a fan favorite. It all started when she won the junior division of the Visa Championships in 2005. In addition to her all-around title, Natasha also became the junior national champion on beam and floor. Later that year she traveled to Japan where she won gold on beam and in the all-around at the Junior Japan International. Coming into her first year as a senior, Natasha's name was on everyone's radar. She continued her success at the 2006 US Classic where she won the all around title along with Ashley Priess. Then at the Visa Championships she finished second all-around behind Nastia Liukin. Natasha was named to the 2006 World Championship team and won a silver medal with the United States team. She also replaced Chellsie Memmel in the floor finals and finished 7th. Natasha began the 2007 season at the American Cup where she finished second to Shawn Johnson. Then injuries struck and she was unfortunately left off the 2007 Worlds team after not having her best performance at the Visa Championships. Natasha signed her letter of intent to compete for the University of Oklahoma and retired from elite gymnastics shortly before the 2008 Visa Championships. Natasha joined the Oklahoma gymnastics team in 2009 and was one of their most anticipated recruits. Although her career was plagued with injuries, Natasha made the most of every opportunity. In 2010 she helped the Sooners to an historic (at the time) second place finish at the NCAA Championships during their first Super Six appearance ever. The following year she helped the Sooners to a third place finish and earned All-American honors on beam. Natasha was forced to retire during her senior year after the second achilles injury of her career. We caught up with Natasha to reflect back on some of the up's and down's of her career and find out what she's up to today! 

Photo belongs to: Spokeo.com


How did you get started in gymnastics? 
I started gymnastics when I was three. I was always flipping around the house, so my parents decided to enroll me in a "mom and me" class. After that, there was no stopping me!

When did going elite and training for the Olympics become a realistic goal for you? 
I think when my family moved to Houston for me to train. Once I got there, everything just seemed to fall into place. I started learning new skills and making a lot of progress right away.

For most of your career you trained at Stars Gymnastics, where Mary Lou Retton's daughters also train. What was it like having Mary Lou around and did she ever give you any good advice? 
Mary Lou Retton is amazing. She has always been one of my biggest supporters. She was always there to talk and give me advice through the good and difficult times. She always knew what to say and how to motivate me. It was easy for me to talk to her because she had been down the same road before and knew exactly what it was like. I couldn't have asked for a better role model and supporter.

What was the hardest part about being an elite gymnast? What were some of the best parts? 
I think the hardest part about being an elite is all of the sacrifices. My parents and I moved away from my family when I was thirteen so I could train with other coaches. I also rarely had any free time. My life revolved around gymnastics. Competing is definitely one of my favorite parts of elite gymnastics. I am very competitive and loved seeing all my hard work pay off. The sacrifices were definitely worth it in the end.

Was the decision to retire from elite a difficult decision to make? 
Retiring from elite was a pretty easy decision for me. I fractured my shin and it became really hard on my body. At the time, I knew it was in my best interest to start focusing on college.

Why did you choose Oklahoma for college gymnastics versus some of the other top schools at the time? 
I fell in love with Oklahoma right when I stepped foot on campus. I always knew I wanted to stay close to home. Before visiting Oklahoma, my top choice was LSU. I grew up around that area and always thought that was where I would end up. I was ready to commit, but my parents thought it would be a good idea to visit at least one other school. I chose Oklahoma because it was close to home. I absolutely loved the coaches at Oklahoma. KJ, Lou, Tom and Jenn the trainer were wonderful and made me feel very welcome. Overall, it just felt like the right fit. Everyone was focused on helping me reach my goals and cared about me as a person.

Photo belongs to: SoonerSports.com


What do you think about all the success the Oklahoma gymnastics team has had in the last few years? 
Oklahoma gymnastics is amazing. The coaches have done a phenomenal job with the program. I am honored to have been apart of the team. The program was already successful when I arrived at OU and that success has continued to grow every year.

Can you talk about making the decision to retire from gymnastics all together? 
Oh gosh, retiring from gymnastics is probably the hardest thing I have ever had to do. It was both a hard and easy decision. It was easy because I knew my time was up and it was my calling to be done. However, it was so difficult for me to let go. Mentally, I was not ready to be done, but I had to accept everything that happened. I left on a positive note and was able to see all of the good in the situation. I accomplished so much during my time at OU and even before I came to OU. I felt like there was nothing left on the table and I had no regrets. I loved gymnastics and gave it everything I had. I pushed myself so hard to come back from all of my injuries. In the long run, they ended up making me the person that I am today. I learned a lot about myself from the whole process of competing and retiring.

Looking back, are you satisfied with everything you accomplished in your career? What were some of the high and low points for you?
I am definitely satisfied with everything that I accomplished. Two of the high points of my elite career were winning Visa Championships as a junior in 2005 and making the World team in 2006. They were a couple of my biggest goals and are the two memories that stick out the most in my mind. The only low part that I can think of in my career is all the injuries I had to face.


Do you still keep up with gymnastics today? 
Yes! I definitely follow OU gymnastics. I keep up with elite gymnastics here and there. It's weird for me to watch because I used to know all of the elite gymnasts and now I don't really know anyone!

What have you been up to lately? 
I have had a lot of new changes lately! I received my master's degree in May in Elementary Education. I recently became a 4th grade teacher and I absolutely love it. I also just got married in June, which has been so exciting! My husband plays football for OU, so our schedules have been very busy!

Photo belongs to: Natasha Kelley (Evans) 





Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Ava Verdeflor's Aspirations for Philippine Gymnastics

When gym fans think of artistic gymnastics in Asia- China, Japan and South Korea come to mind. Ava Verdeflor wants to change that.



Verdeflor, 15, is a Filipino-American elite gymnast who trains at WOGA. She was born in the Tarlac province of the Philippines and later moved to the U.S. with her family. The Verdeflors have dual citizenship in the U.S. and the Philippines, which allows her to compete for her birth country.

She first competed as a Philippine gymnast in 2013 at the Philippine National Games, where she won the all-around and was named to the Philippine National Team. Then she began representing the Philippines in international competition in February of this year. Although it has just begun, going elite has always been the plan.

“My parents are both from the Philippines. The idea of me competing for the Philippines has always been there from the beginning,” Verdeflor said. “As I progress more in my gymnastics, the idea became a plan. When I was about 11, my mom contacted the Gymnastics Association of the Philippines (GAP) and we met with the officials during one of our Philippine visits, and that was the start.”

While USA Gymnastics requires gymnasts to go through a detailed process to qualify to the elite level, that’s not the case in the Philippines. “There are actually no tests in the Philippines to be an elite gymnast, so there is no elite gymnast title,” she explained. “There are not enough gymnasts there for elite testing to make sense.  And it’s sad to say that the skill level (in the Philippines) is not that good yet, not even close.”

Although the skill level of Philippine gymnastics is not high enough to contend internationally, Verdeflor says the GAP is "trying to improve their program to be more competitive.”


Photo Credit: Whitney Riney 


One way of increasing their competitiveness is by competing internationally, which Verdeflor has been doing throughout this year, thus bringing attention to gymnastics in the Philippines and their gymnastics programs. She first did this at the 2014 Nadia Comaneci Invitational.

“The first time I competed for the Philippines was also the first time I competed as an elite,” Verdeflor said. “It is so different from competing as Level 10. I enjoyed my first elite experience but it was also stressful because I was not familiar yet to the elite competition format.”

She used the stressful situation as a learning experience to help her in future elite competitions. Two months after the Invitational, Verdeflor competed at the Junior Asian Artistic Gymnastics Championships in April, which qualified her to compete at the recent Youth Olympic Games. “My experience at YOG was amazing. I enjoyed everything about it,” Verdeflor said. “It was really fun to get to know my team, including our Young Ambassador.”



 Her favorite parts included spending time with her team, meeting other Youth Olympians and “competing alongside the best gymnasts in the world in her age division,” and now that she’s competed at the Youth Olympics, Verdeflor has her eyes set on Rio.

“I hope to win medals for the Philippines in the coming competitions, specifically at the Southeast Asian Games in June 2015,” she said. ”I also hope to qualify to Worlds and ultimately, to represent the Philippines in Rio 2016.”



That’s just one of the few ambitious goals she has set for herself. Another one of those goals is to earn a college scholarship. She has already visited a few schools and hopes to make a decision soon. As a WOGA gymnast, which she is proud to be, there’s definitely hope for Verdeflor to get a scholarship like many of her fellow WOGA teammates. But that isn’t even her highest hope.

“I hope that I can make a difference somehow, someday, (to) maybe inspire more Filipino kids to try gymnastics.”



For more information on Ava, be sure to check out her website. (Here)

Written by: Amanda