Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Book Review | It's Not About Perfect

At the age of 38, Shannon Miller seems to have already done it all. She's America's first back to back World Champion, a two time Olympic gold medalist, America's most decorated gymnast to date, a cancer survivor, mother of two and now the author of a book-- It's Not About Perfect.  In her memoir, Shannon goes in depth; sharing stories from her early childhood, her elite gymnastics career, and of course life after gymnastics. Miller doesn't hold back when sharing the ups and downs of not only her gymnastics career, but her life.

We all know the story of Shannon Miller's gymnastics success- to this day she is considered one of the greatest gymnasts of all time. She was the teen from Oklahoma who was best known for her frizzy hair, trademark scrunchy, and beautiful gymnastics. She trained at Dynamo under the watchful eye of Steve Nunno and Peggy Liddick-- together they would become legends of the sport. After competing in two Olympic games, Shannon now owns seven Olympic medals; two gold, two silver, and three bronze. In her book, Shannon talks a lot about the training process for both of those games and the key to her success. For all you die hard Shannon Miller fans out there, she does a great job of sharing all the details of every aspect of her career- even her method to sticking all those landings! She also candidly shares tidbits of information such as what she was thinking during the most important competitions of her life and the training plans crafted by Steve Nunno to get her through injuries or difficult times. Reading about Shannon's career in her own words really helps you understand her mindset and how she stays so positive and optimistic. Even in the darkest of times, Shannon would look for the light in every situation.

In the book, Shannon says that winning the 1996 US National Championships was not only one of the greatest moments of her gymnastics career- but of her life. While pushing through a pain in her wrist and a pulled hamstring, Shannon came back from a fall on beam in the first rotation to claim her second National title, something that she describes as a turning point in her life, "Since then, every time I've come up against an obstacle- including when I went toe-to-toe with cancer- my comeback at Nationals and my decision to resume training despite a broken elbow and making the 1992 Olympic team have been my main sources of inspiration," Miller wrote.

At the age of 19 Shannon retired from gymnastics and was left trying to find her identity outside of the sport. For the remainder of the book, she talks about the ups and downs in her life. She shares her struggle with her weight, the college life and her lack of desire to socialize. She talks about jumping into marriage too soon- but also finding her soul-mate later in life. She also talks about the birth of her children and launching her own business- Shannon Miller Lifestyle. The last few chapters focus mainly on her battle with cancer. She applied the lessons she learned through gymnastics to help get her through one of the most difficult obstacles in her life.

It's Not About Perfect is a great read for anybody- not just gymnastics fans! Miller's story is inspirational and her words are motivational, making this a great read for everyone.

Friday, May 15, 2015

2020 Olympic Team Size Reduction: Our Thoughts

The FIG recently announced that starting in 2020, the Olympic team size will be reduced from five members to four in an effort to include more individual athletes. Countries with more depth can try and qualify two additional gymnasts through World Cups, Challenge Cups, and Continental Championships. These athletes can compete for the all-around and event titles however, they can not be apart of the team competition.

Having only four members on an Olympic team would mean that the team final format is four athletes up and three scores count. So every member on the team must be an all-arounder. For the United States, coming up with four all-around competitors is an easy task. They are capable of putting up four athletes who can contribute mid-high scores on every event. Granted, an athlete that they are putting up in the team competition might not be the best in the US on that particular event (those athletes would likely be competing as one of two individuals- so they wouldn't be left at home.) but she can more than likely put up a decent score for the team. I'm more concerned for the countries that really rely on using event specialists in a team competition. A country like Great Britain for example may have one or two girls who are considered "true" all-arounders and the rest of the team would normally be comprised of event specialists. The same goes for many of the countries outside of the "big four". You don't see them producing four or more strong all-around athletes. They rely on specialists to boost the team score and this new rule is going to change that.

However, I think having the opportunity to qualify two individuals to the Olympics is awesome because it still allows up to six girls to compete for a given nation. If a gymnast is truly one of the best vaulters in the world and can contend for a medal- she should be able to earn herself an individual spot no problem. I don't agree that reducing the team size to four members is hurting an event specialists chances. This new rule is promoting all-around athletes without eliminating event specialists. I see it as more opportunities for everyone!

If you want to make the four member team, you have to really focus in on being more consistent and clean on every event. I think that's one of the positive outcomes of this new rule. I don't think you have to be the best in the world on each event (unless you're Simone Biles!) to make the team, but you should have at least two or three strong events and be working to make the weaker events more strong and more consistent. Let's look at Kyla Ross for example. Granted, she doesn't have the most difficulty in the world on any event, but she is clean and consistent and you know you can rely on her on any event if need be. Vault, bars, beam or floor; you know you can put her up and get a good score for the team. If you have a few events that are strong but one really weak event (think Alicia Sacramone) then you would have the opportunity to qualify as a specialist and just compete the events you're medal-worthy on.

In the end I think reducing the team size will force athletes to work closely on the events where their consistency/execution suffers. Any athlete who doesn't make the four member team could potentially still have a chance at an Olympic medal for her individual performances. After all, most gymnasts don't train their entire life to just be a team champion, they want to be an all-around champion or an event champion. I think this new rule is giving more gymnasts the opportunity to do just that.

What are your thoughts on the team size reduction? Feel free to tweet us or leave a comment below!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Samantha Shapiro | Worth It In The End

When Samantha Shapiro burst onto the elite scene in 2006, many people were blown away by her impeccable form, extreme flexibility, and larger than life personality. She was the girl with the big smile and even bigger gymnastics. After proving herself as one of the top junior elites in the country- consistently placing in the top two all around at every major competition; many people predicted that Sam would have been a lock for the 2008 Olympic team had she been born just a few months earlier. She was becoming one of the "it" girls in the sport and her senior debut was much anticipated. Unfortunately, her senior career was nagged by injury after injury which ultimately resulted in her retirement from the elite level. With her Olympic dream behind her, Sam was ready to focus on competing for her dream school and making the most of her experience as a Stanford Cardinal. Now at the age of 22, Sam is nothing short of content when she looks back on her career. Though her journey may have had a few bumps in the road, she ended on a high note with that trademark smile beaming bright. We recently caught up with Sam to reflect back on her elite career, dealing with injuries, and some of her most unforgettable moments.

Photo Credit: Chalk Bowl

Can you begin by talking about how you got started in gymnastics? Was there anyone that you idolized growing up?
I was introduced to gymnastics when I was 3 years old through a pre-school class that was offered once a week. My parents didn’t know much about the sport at all but thought that I might enjoy it so they signed me up. After the first day, my parents got a call from a coach at the gym telling them I had very good upper-body strength and that she wanted me to start coming into the gym multiple days a week. My parents thought she was nuts, being that I was only 3 years old at the time, and so I just continued on with the pre-school class. The next year, when my parents asked if I wanted to continue on with gymnastics, I of course said yes and after the first day back, they got the same call from the same coach telling them they had wasted a year and it was really time to start. I was with that coach, Galina Marinova, all the way up until I left for college.

At what age did you (or your coaches) realize that you had potential to make it far in gymnastics? 
Apparently, my coach, Galina Marinova, determined that I had the potential to make it far in gymnastics when I was only three. I don’t know how she was able to see it so early on. She really does have an eye for gymnastics and knows the sport inside and out. I’d have to say it wasn’t really anybody’s idea for me to train and compete at the elite level. It wasn’t really something I even thought or knew about initially. I just loved the sport and worked very hard with my coaches and upon recognizing the success we had already achieved and the level of future potential, my coaches had the idea of taking me elite. It didn’t really seem like a decision, but rather just the next step in the progression of becoming the best gymnast I could be.

You qualified to elite in 2006. What are some of your earliest memories as far as your first US National Team camp and your first international assignments? Any fun stories you can share?
I was on the TOPs national team for 3 years so I was familiar with the ranch.  However, the first National Team training camp was a bit terrifying, yet exciting at the same time. I remember at my first training camp, I was in a training rotation with Alicia Sacramone. We started the first training session on vault and I just remember how I was in awe of her, standing right next to her as she prepared to vault like she was my own teammate. She was so sweet to me and nicknamed me “Shap.” She probably doesn’t remember, but it meant a lot to the 13 year old me at the time so I was grateful to her for that welcome. I have very fond memories of my first international assignment. I was 13 and had been assigned to L’International Gymnix competition in Montreal, Canada. It was my first time out of the country and a really great experience. I got to compete alongside my club teammate, Mattie Larson, I met some really great girls from all over the world, and both the team won in the team competition and I secured the AA title for the US in the junior division. I will never forget that first experience of standing on an awards podium representing my country as the American flag was being raised. What made it extra special was that my dad and grandmother were able to travel to Canada to watch me and share that experience with me. 

You had lots of success at the junior elite level and many people thought that had you been eligible for the 2008 Olympics, you would have been in the running to make the team. What are your thoughts on that?
I am very flattered to hear that. I was much more at my peak during that era, later having to deal with a string of serious injuries that inhibited me from being able to fully recover and upgrade in time to be a contender for the 2012 Olympics for which I was eligible. Being just 5 months too young to be eligible for 2008 was surely a difficult situation for me as I so badly wanted to be a part of the Olympic process, but I was so driven by my love for the sport that I by no means saw that as a deterrent. I let the Olympic dream motivate me by viewing that time as an opportunity to make upgrades and get more experience competing internationally. 

You sat out the 2009 season (your first year as a senior) due to an ankle injury. What was the recovery process like for you and how hard was it to stay focused on your goal of making it to the Olympics with such a huge setback?
My ankle injury, starting with months of gradually increasing pain and ending with surgery, over a month on crutches, and 6 months off of any lower-body impact, was one of the hardest things I had had to deal with in my gymnastics career. I never lost sight of my goal, and my motivation truly never really suffered, but my frustration with my situation grew by the day. Time was of the essence and my ankle rehabilitation and healing process seemed to take forever. It was very hard for me to sit out and watch everyone else be able to continue training and competing, but that only motivated me to return with a vengeance (perhaps too much as it led to my next serious injury) upon being cleared to train and compete again.

Photo Credit: Chalk Bowl

You came back in 2010 and competed in the US Classic which was your first meet in over a year. Many people remember your vault from that competition where you hyper-extended both knees after a scary fall. Do you remember what you were thinking in that moment?
The moment I landed I thought I had completely blown out both knees. I thought it would be another serious injury, and quite possibly the end of my career. But that was only in the moment after I landed and felt the searing pain. Minutes later when I realized I could move them and my coach helped me up to walk off the podium, my mind immediately started thinking about anything and everything I could do to get myself back in time for the Visa National Championships. I had worked too hard to come back from my ankle injury to let this knee injury, whatever it was, stop me. After learning nothing was torn, I went to physical therapy and lazer therapy every day for the two weeks between the U.S. Classic and the Visa National Championships and did literally everything I could to get my knees strong enough to compete at Championships. I could have never gotten there without the help of my parents, who were there for me every step of the way.

You came back with a vengeance a few weeks later and competed in the VISA Championships where you placed 7th in the all around and 5th on floor. How hard was it to prepare for this competition with all the injuries you had been dealing with?
Extremely difficult, especially since I was a perfectionist and felt I had to over-train and get in extra numbers in order to be prepared. With only having 2 weeks to both heal and train for Championships, I, with the help of my coaches, doctors, and parents had to closely monitor my training so that I could have the best chance of being able to compete.  

You retired from elite gymnastics in 2011 and committed to Stanford University. Can you talk a little bit about that decision. Why did you choose Stanford?
The decision to retire that year from elite gymnastics was probably the most difficult decision I’ve ever had to make. It had been my dream to make it to the Olympics and the plan, since my coaches and I realized it was a possibility, was to defer my freshman year of college to train the year leading up to 2012. Ultimately deciding to attend college without the deferral year was due to realistically recognizing and acknowledging the current state my body was in, having to withstand a long list of back-to-back-to-back injuries and still not even being 100% healthy, the amount of training and competitions I had to sit out of because of the injuries, and the lack of time I’d have to be able to heal and upgrade in order to be a viable contender. Deciding on Stanford was the much easier choice. Stanford is an amazing school – intellectually stimulating, amazing people, beautiful campus – and it is the best of both worlds…demanding and inspiring excellence on both the academic and athletic fronts, which was really important to me.

How would you sum up your experience at Stanford? Your team ended on a high note at the NCAA Championships where you qualified as a team to the Super Six- exceeding a lot of peoples expectations!
Indescribable. Stanford is such an amazing place with a truly unparalleled combination of academic and athletic excellence. But beyond that, it is a genuinely wonderful place to live and learn, surrounded by intelligent and kind people, from whom I’ve been lucky enough to learn often more than I do in the classroom! As for my Stanford gymnastics experience specifically, it has been a great learning experience and I have met many wonderful young women whom I will call some of my best friends for life. This year, as every year, we had to overcome a lot as a team and to see it all come together like it did at the end was truly special. But for me, making it to the Super Six was extra special because we hadn’t made it that far since my freshman year so it was really nice to watch it come full-circle and know that all the hard work my class put in over the four years we spent on the Stanford Women’s Gymnastics team helped lead this year’s team to the Super Six. 

After landing your bar dismount in your final competition as a gymnast, you burst into tears. Can you take me back to that moment? 
That moment was one that I will remember forever. Gymnastics was and will always be such a huge part of my life, and it truly was my passion. I loved it even when I hated it, through all the pain, sweat, tears, and injuries, which made the good times that much better. I was actually crying bittersweet tears on and off that whole weekend, mixed between disbelief that this was my last competition and sadness that my time doing the sport was coming to an end, together with overwhelming joy and happiness that I had been given such an amazing opportunity. When I went up for what I knew would be my last routine ever, I had to hold myself back from breaking down. I was just so filled with love and sentimentality for the sport at that moment knowing it would be the last time I would get that mix of excitement and nerves before saluting for my routine – that same mix that I used to hate as a kid and learned to love, crave, and cherish by the end of my career. As I approached the chalk bowl I had to stop myself from thinking about it being the last time so that I could keep myself composed and focus on my work, really relishing and living in the last moments of my time as a gymnast. I was able to keep it together through the whole routine until the very end when I was swinging for my dismount. I couldn’t force out the thought that this was literally the last of it and that’s why, as soon as I landed, I burst into tears right on the spot. Honestly I probably would have even if I hadn’t felt like I nailed my routine, but the fact that I had magnified all the feelings I felt in that moment; pride for that routine and a successful end to my gymnastics career, gratitude for a gymnastics career I could have never even imagined, disbelief and sadness that the journey was over, and overwhelming joy that it had happened. 

And finally, how do you hope to be remembered in the gymnastics world? Do you plan on staying involved in gymnastics somehow?
I do plan to stay involved in gymnastics. I love and respect the sport too much to just be able to drop it and walk away from it after retiring. I will attend any gymnastics events in my area as well as follow the path of my teammates still on Stanford’s gymnastics team. I also plan to volunteer at the Special Olympics World Games’ gymnastics competition in Los Angeles this summer. Finally, my sister will be a UCLA Bruin in the fall, and while I’ll always be a Cardinal at heart, I will be following and cheering on the UCLA team as well! I hope to be remembered for my strong work ethic, my attention to detail, my lines, and artistry, and my tenacity and unrelenting passion for the sport. Most importantly however, I want to be remembered by my teammates and coaches as an impactful, kind person who wanted to help and inspire others through my words, setting examples, and utter love for the sport.

Photo Credit: Heather Maynez
Thank you Sam for taking the time to chat with us. We wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors! 

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Dear Gymternet- Journals from Elena Arenas (Entry #11 April 2015)

Dear Gymternet, 

I didn't have any camps or competitions this month, but I did a couple of fun things and have been training hard!

Earlier in the month I went to Florida to be with my teammates while they competed at level 9/10 Regionals. I traveled with them and stayed with them and it was so much fun. Where we stayed was right on the beach! We spent most of Saturday and all of Sunday on the beach. I had such a great time being with them. We laughed like all day long. :) I did get really burnt though, so that hurt a lot when I had to put my leotard on on Monday.

Elena and her teammates at the beach

I also went and spoke at an elementary school! I was in the Scholastic's Storyworks magazine and the school that one of my teammate's mom works at used that magazine. She asked if I would come in and talk to the 3rd and 4th graders at the school. I was so nervous! All the 3rd graders went to the media center and asked me a bunch of questions. I did a front aerial and some press handstands for them and I showed them the medal I won from P&G Championships last year. Then I went to all the 4th grade classrooms and talked to them. One boy asked to get a selfie with me. Haha! All the teachers and kids were so nice and it was really fun!

Elena visiting with local elementary students

I have been training hard this past month getting ready to compete at the American Classic. I am back to doing full routines on all the events again. I have training camp the last week of May and then the American Classic on May 30th. I am so excited to compete again!


Saturday, April 25, 2015

MG Elite: On The Rise

Three years ago, an unknown junior and her coach were ready to make their debut at the Secret Classic. It was the year of the Olympic Games, and while much of the focus was on who would make the Olympic team, many eyes were still on the junior division, looking for the potential stars of 2016. As new faces in the world of elite gymnastics, nobody knew what to expect from these two. Despite being the youngest ― and perhaps the smallest ― in the competition, the unknown junior carried herself with confidence and poise. When she took to the floor, she commanded everyone's attention. The crowd quickly learned that this girl was not only a performer, but she had the skills to back it up.

How hard is it to blow away a crowd of thousands at your first major elite competition? Just ask Lauren “Laurie” Hernandez ― she had no problem doing it. When all was said and done, Hernandez finished 11th all-around (with a fall on bars) and qualified to the national championships. The gymnastics world liked what they saw, and they wanted to see more. Although Nationals didn't go as well as they would have liked, Hernandez and her coach Maggie Haney had done enough to put MG Elite on the map. It didn't take long for the fan pages to start popping up on social media and for fan mail to start rolling in.

Laurie with her first fan mail!

In the next year, Hernandez would find herself among the top junior elites in the country. Following a solid showing at a national team camp, she was added to the junior national team and was looking to continue to prove herself at the 2013 Secret Classic. This time, however, she wouldn't be competing alone. A girl named Jazmyn Foberg had recently begun training at MG Elite and earned her elite qualifying score at the Parkettes Qualifier. For Foberg, this competition was just about gaining experience.

Unfortunately, it wasn't the best competition for Jazzy; she fell twice, resulting in a 26th all-around finish, and failed to qualify to the national championships. Because she was so new to the program, Haney didn't have much time to prepare her for the competition, however it was a valuable learning experience. In their eyes, for her to even make it that far was a huge accomplishment.

For Hernandez, it was a great stepping stone competition. Despite falling off the beam, she managed to finish sixth all-around and win the floor title. Things only went up from there. At nationals, better known as the P&G Championships, Hernandez hit eight for eight and finished second overall, a vast improvement from her 21st place finish the year prior.

PC: Gymnastike

Hernandez earned herself a trip to Japan for her first international assignment. She went on to place third all-around. Shortly after, she was off to Mexico with Team USA for the Mexican Open. She placed second all-around and helped Team USA win the team gold- the perfect ending to a very successful "break-through" season.

2014 was a year filled with many emotions for Coach Haney. The year started out on a bad note when Hernandez fractured her wrist after falling off the beam in practice. The good news was Hernandez was expected to be back on track for the summer competition season. However, that all ended when she took a bad fall on vault at a national team camp and injured her knee. This not only meant the season was over for Hernandez, but she had to have surgery and would be out for six months. It was a huge heartbreaker for the gymnastics world, but Hernandez and Haney tried their best to stay positive.

"Sometimes when a kid is out for so long, it starts to seem like they will never make it back. When you realize all the time you are losing, it can be very depressing," Haney said. "Laurie and I worked really hard to keep her spirits up during her time out, and now we can see the light at the end of the tunnel."

While losing Hernandez for the season was tough, the show had to go on. The star inside Foberg was ready to shine. With several new upgrades for the season, Foberg was hungry to show the world what she really had. Her success started at the American Classic, where she won the junior division with a score that was good enough to win the senior division. Her performance gave her one of eight spots to compete in the senior session of the Secret Classic, an honor only given to the junior elites who showed the most promise and potential. It wasn't an error-free meet, but she hit all four events and finished fifth all-around and third on vault.

Things were shaping up well for the P&G Championships. She wasn't necessarily the favorite going in, but with the second highest amount of difficulty in the whole junior division, everyone knew in the back of their minds that Foberg could do big things. Just the year before, Foberg was as far away as she could be from winning the national championships... literally. She was on a cruise with her family in Florida while her friends competed in Hartford, Connecticut. This time, things were very different, but in a good way. She was one of the very few gymnasts who hit all eight of her routines, and for that, she was crowned the 2014 Junior National Champion!

"I didn't believe it at first," Foberg admitted. "I was shocked, but really proud!"

PC: Charles LeClaire

In addition to her all-around title, she finished fourth on vault, first on bars, ninth on beam and fifth on floor ― results that were unimaginable for her just the year before. Let this sink in-- in one year Foberg went from not even qualifying to JO Nationals as a level 10 to winning the P&G Championships as a junior elite. Suddenly, there was a new star from MG Elite, and Haney was thrilled. For a year that started out so low, it ended on a high note and gave Foberg all the confidence in the world.

"I think after Jazzy won Championships, it kind of solidified that she belongs," Haney said. "Like, now she knows she's legit."

Foberg and Hernandez spend approximately eight hours training together each day, but apparently, eight hours together isn’t enough for the pair of best friends.

"I can hardly separate the two of them!” Haney joked. “It's so crazy. The nights before we leave for camp, Laurie always sleeps over at my house, and by 8 P.M., they are FaceTiming each other! I guess eight hours together each day is just not enough!"

Although they are teammates ― and also sometimes each other’s biggest competition ― Foberg says she feels no competition between them.

"We always root for each other and want each other to do great!” Foberg said. “I always wish the best for her because she is such a great gymnast and my best friend."

Hernandez's feelings toward Foberg are mutual.

"I'm so happy to have Jazzy as a teammate," Hernandez said. "She is always there for me on my best days and my rough days. I'm so glad I get to compete with my best friend as well!"

They may be best friends, but Haney says they are quite different.

"Laurie is very silly, happy and a total performer,” Haney said. “She is always smiling and looking at the world with a positive thought. She is ready to take on anything. Jazzy is very serious and quiet. She doesn't say much; she just listens, processes and thinks things through. She is very smart."

But it’s their differences that have brought out a new side to each of them.

"Laurie has really helped me to bring Jazzy out of her shell as a gymnast and a teenager,” Haney said. “Jazzy has shown Laurie how important it is to pay close attention to what you are doing and to be aware of what is going on around you."

A friendship that has been going strong for over three years will continue on even when their elite days are over. To conclude 2014, both girls committed to the University of Florida, the defending three-time National Champions. But what sealed the deal?

"I saw how beautiful the campus was,” Hernandez said. “The area had such a great vibe!"

Foberg added, "I just fell in love with it! The campus, the gym and the coaches are so great!"

The two will join the team in 2018.

Here we are in 2015, and MG Elite is home to two of the best junior elites in the world, both of whom are considered top prospects for the Olympics in Rio next summer. So far this year, things are off to a great start. Maggie's first goal for Foberg and Hernandez was to make the Jesolo team and just "do the job." In reality, they did that and more. This meet was very important for each of them. For Hernandez, it was her first competition in over a year. For Foberg, it was her first international assignment ever. Both girls had something to prove.

Hernandez had a phenomenal competition, winning the gold medal for each opportunity she had: team, all-around, bars and floor. After being out for so long, Laurie was glad to be back.

"I was so excited to compete again!" she said. "Jesolo was a great experience and the team was great as well. I'm glad I was able to start out the season with this meet!"

Haney noted that she was very pleased with not only Hernandez's performance, but how much she has grown as a person over the last year.

"Laurie is a very special kid and I'm so proud of her for never giving up," Haney said. "Over the past year, she has matured so much; it's crazy. She is so much smarter now and more focused than ever before. I'm really excited for her future."

It was a strong competition for Foberg as well, who said she didn't feel any pressure coming into this season as the reigning National Champion, despite initially thinking that she would. Although she said she was nervous to compete in her first international competition, she was able to relax once she hit the competition floor. She noted that Simone Biles was a big help and gave her some great advice: "Just stay calm, have fun and do what you do in the gym."

Foberg did her job and left Italy with some hardware: a gold medal each for team and vault and a bronze for the all-around competition. Not bad for her first international assignment!

"You never would have known by the way that she carried herself,” Haney said. “She is a very calm competitor and was not fazed at all."

"The hardest part was making sure she understood the expectations and intensity she would be facing. She is still relatively 'new' to it all, so it's a learning process for her but she is handling it all with no problems."

Haney added that overall she was very happy with the outcome of the meet for both of her girls. For her, winning gold in every event final they made was just 'icing on the cake.'

"As a coach, you always have a plan or a hope of how a meet will go down, but it's really nice when it actually happens the way you want!"

With Jesolo in the books, it was back to New Jersey and time to get busy. Their next goal is to prepare for Championships and prove that they can be competitive in the senior division by next year. And although it's top secret, Maggie says there are upgrades in the works for both girls.

"Laurie and Jazzy are both strong all-around competitors, but I need to make them stronger on certain events where they can be valuable to a team," Haney said. "I'm really pushing them on bars, as I think they can contribute on that event. We are working several upgrades on beam and floor as well."

When asked their goals for this season, both girls kept it simple: hit all their events and remain on the National Team, keeping the goals attainable and close at hand.

With the Rio Olympics a little over a year away, Haney says that, although it's a daily ― sometimes hourly ― thought in her head, she doesn't talk about it much with her girls. It can be intense and hard work coaching elite level athletes to their goal, which, in this case, is the Olympic Games.

"We never get a lazy day," Haney said. "I also coach my kids on every event, so that is a big responsibility. I am single handedly responsible for their warm up, conditioning, vault, bars, beam, floor, flexibility and choreography."

Sound stressful? It certainly can be, and Haney is the first to admit it.

However, she added, "It's working for us, so I feel like it's the right choice."

It's hard work now, but it will hopefully be worth it in the end. It's been one heck of a journey so far with climbing to the top of the ranks in just a few short years, and there's no denying the outcome this trio is looking for. When Hernandez and Foberg were asked about their future goals in the sport of gymnastics, Rio was mentioned right away. Both girls also expressed interest in possibly competing at a World Championships after the games since they won't be eligible this year.

Right now, it's one step at a time for Hernandez, Foberg and Haney. They've got a big year ahead of them, and from the way things have been going, it's bound to be a good one! Only time can tell what the future holds, but fans from around the world are hopeful that a trip to Rio is in the cards for the talented trio from MG Elite.

Thank you Maggie, Jazzy, and Laurie for the interview! 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Catching up with Shayla Worley

Shayla Worley is best known as being a member of the 2007 World Championship team that took gold in Stuttgart, Germany. She was an established gymnast at the elite level for seven years, earning a spot on the US National team during six of those years. Some of her career highlights include placing second in her first competition as a senior- the 2006 American Cup, as well as placing second at the 2007 US National Championships. After injuries kept her home from the 2008 Olympics, Worley made the transition into collegiate gymnastics and began competing as a Georgia Gymdog in 2010. In this interview, Shayla talks about the ups and downs of her career at the elite level and life after gymnastics.

Photo belongs to Lloyd Smith

Can you start by talking a little bit about how you got started in gymnastics? Who were your idols growing up?
I got started in gymnastics when I was three. My older sister, Jolene, had started taking classes and I wanted to be just like her, so naturally I started taking classes too. I always loved Nadia growing up. I named all my teddy bears after her.

When did you realize that you had potential to make it far in gymnastics and at what age did the Olympics become a realistic goal for you?
The gym I started at was closing down so we switched to Orlando Metro when I was eight. Like most gymnasts, I can remember being convinced I could go to the Olympics. It wasn't long after moving to Metro that Jeff sat me down and told me if I wanted to be serious about the Olympics, I would have to quit spending time on acting and modeling and commit everything to gymnastics. I was a level 8 at the time.

What are some of your earliest memories of going to the national team camps?
I can remember going to the ranch for the first time in 2002 for the TOPS National Team camp, where Sam Peszek and I were roommates and instantly became best friends. We are still best friends to this day. I was invited back to the ranch again early the next year and hit it off with Alicia [Sacramone] and Nastia [Liukin]. That was back when I used the pay phone to call my mom and let her know I was still alive, long before I owned a cell phone or laptop and before the ranch had internet. And before those nice new rooms were built!

You were apart of the 2007 World Championships team that won gold in Germany. Can you talk about that experience and what it did for you in terms of confidence going into the Olympic year?
Being apart of that team was special in so many ways. We were the true definition of a team.We knew each other so well and cared for one another more than any other team I had been on previously. I know that was the key to our success. I remember there being very few mistakes in the weeks of practice leading up to the meet, meaning we were peaking at exactly the right time. But we didn't have a perfect day on team finals, we had some mistakes on beam and going into our last rotation, floor, we huddled up and decided we were still gonna win that thing. And that's exactly what we did! We came roaring back on floor and sealed the deal. Words can't describe what we felt after Alicia finished her floor routine and we realized we had won. It's a memory I will always treasure.

Photo belongs to USA Gymnastics

During your elite career, what were some of the ups and downs you faced? Is there a point in your career looking back now that you can pinpoint as the highest or the lowest moment for you?
The daily ups and downs of practice were endless. By far the most difficult thing for me in gymnastics was staying healthy. I was not built very durable. I herniated my first disk in my back at 14 and had too many other injuries to name.I had a lot of highs in my career with Worlds probably being the highest. Breaking my leg the day the 2008 Olympic team was selected was by far the hardest time in my elite career. When you've had one goal you're entire life and it's the only thing you've ever dreamed of and when you've spent 15 years working toward it day in and day out and you missed it because an injury the day of, it's pretty devastating.  I had never even thought past the year 2008.  At that point in my life, my entire self worth revolved around a single gymnastics competition. Since then, I have learned that as a person, you are not defined by the things you accomplish and you're happiness with yourself should not be dependent upon your daily performance in the gym. Of course I encourage all athletes to dream big and work harder but some of the most important things are the relationships you build, the impact you make on others, and the life lessons/attributes you gain along the way.

You dealt with injuries leading up to the Olympic Games but still managed to be back in time for trials. How did you feel going into that competition? Did you feel like your spot on the team was out of reach?
I had some issues with my back prior to Trials but by the time the National Team Training Squad camp rolled around, I was ready to go. I had done the training needed to peak at the right time. I felt very confident. Unfortunately my body just couldn't hold up.

There was a brief point in time where you wanted to continue on in elite but eventually decided to move on to college gymnastics. How hard (or easy) of a decision was that for you? 
Yes, after the 2008 games I did think I wanted to defer a semester of college to try for worlds. But after a few months I realized that the main reason I wanted to continue towards the 2009 world championships was because I was hoping to fill a void and realistically, no world championship could really fulfill the loss of an Olympic dream.  My heart wasn't really into it although I tried to convince myself other wise and once I finally realized this, I decided I was ready to move on to the next phase in my gymnastics career.

Talk about your experience as a gymnast at the University of Georgia. What were some of the highlights for you?
I loved every minute of my time at the University of Georgia. I feel so blessed to have been apart of such a wonderful team at a university where so many people care about you as both an athlete and an individual. I think most college gymnasts will tell you that it is absolutely the best experience imaginable. It's such a magical transformation to go from elite gymnastics where it's all about you, to college where no individual is more important than the team and where you legitimately want to perform your best for everyone but yourself. I can't say enough wonderful things about the coaches, the athletic association, the Gymdogs and what we represent, and the entire University of Georgia. I will forever be grateful for my time there.

Looking back on your career, both elite and college, what would you say you are most proud of? 
Looking back on my career there are many athletic achievements that I am proud of such as being the first World Championship team to win gold on foreign soil. But the thing I am most proud of is that my peers and teammates considered me a leader. I cherish the impact I've been able to have on the people around me and the life long relationships I've cultivated. That's something that will last a lifetime. 

And finally what have you been up to lately? Do you still stay involved with gymnastics?
Gymnastics has given me so many wonderful opportunities such as going to a wonderful University that I would have otherwise never been able to attend and opened so many other doors of opportunity. After I graduated, I decided to get my MBA at UGA and after that I was very fortunate to land a solid job at a financial brokerage firm in Atlanta doing wealth management. I really enjoy my job and the people I work with. As far as being involved with the gymnastics community, I will still be able to do two summer camps this year for two of my favorite gyms  (I have to use vacation days at work) and I am still very involved with the Gymdogs by being an Alumni Aunt (a mentoring program) and serving on the alumni board. Gymnastics has been a huge part of who I am and will continue to be.

Photo belongs to UGA Sports Communication

Monday, March 30, 2015

Dear Gymternet - Journals from Elena Arenas (Entry #10 March 2015)

Dear Gymternet, 

I have had so much fun this past month! I was in the Storyworks magazine, learned some new skills and went to developmental camp!

My favorite part of this month was being in the Storyworks magazine. I was interviewed over the phone for an hour and a half and had a four hour photo shoot. In some pictures I had to wear a leotard and in others I wore clothes. I had to come up with a lot of poses! I had so much fun doing it though! At first I was kind of nervous, but after about 10 minutes I got more comfortable. The magazine went out to elementary schools across the country! A couple of schools that I live by have asked me to come and speak to the students and I'm really really scared for that! Being chosen to be in the magazine was a really great experience for me and something that I will never ever forget.

Elena posing for Storyworks Magazine

In the gym I've been working a few new skills over the last couple of weeks. I've been consistently landing yurchenko double fulls on vault and making inside stalders on bars. Recently, I tried an inside stalder full and made it! I have been working double layouts on floor (on to floor height) and they are getting more consistent. 

Elena and her friend from camp cheering on Nastia

I also went to developmental camp this month and it went great! I verified some new skills on bars and floor and did them successfully. I had so much fun with the girls and we all got to watch Nastia Liukin on Dancing with the Stars! We were all cheering for her and voting for her. I go back to camp at the end of May. Immediately after that camp, I'll be competing at the American Classic and trying to qualify to the P&G Championships. I might be adding some new skills in my routines that I didn't do at the WOGA Classic. I can't wait to compete again!