Some teenagers wish they could be a celebrity. Some celebrities wished they could have been a normal teenager. And some teenagers live the best of both worlds.
MyKayla Skinner is a 14-year-old LDS high school freshman from Arizona who has trained as a gymnast for almost 10 years. She recently made the U.S. Gymnastics National Team and is one step closer to competing in the London 2012 Summer Olympics.
“It’s cool and it’s a weird feeling to have so many people know me at such a young age,” Skinner said.
She said people follow her, recognize her at the mall, ask for her autograph and send frequent fan mail. After MyKayla found out she made the national team at the Visa Championships, a crowd of little girls stopped and asked her to sign their leotards.
“MyKayla has several skills she does that are unique and only a few gymnasts in the country and even the world do them,” said Lisa Spini, owner and head coach at Desert Lights Gymnastics. “These skills combined with a cool head in competition make her world class.”
Skinner’s high school’s homecoming assembly highlighted her accomplishments and showed her floor routine on a big screen. The athletic director held up a large banner made by Skinners’s coach that congratulated her for making the U.S. National Team, which is currently displayed in Higley High School’s auditorium.
After the assembly, she heard the comment any high-school student wants to hear from their peers, “Oh, you’re so cool!”
Skinner said it’s hard to prioritize living a normal teenage life and pursuing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. She frequently travels to Houston to attend National Team camps, while having to keep up with missed school work, but she does enjoy having the occasional breaks from school.
She said her typical day is composed of going to school for five hours, gym for seven hours and then home for homework before she goes bed to repeat the same routine the next day. Saturdays include three hours of practice in the morning after which she is free to go out and do activities for herself, along with fielding occasional questions from news organizations.
“The media has given her the idea of majoring in broadcast and sports commentary like Nastia Liukin,” said Skinner’s mother, Kym Skinner. “We don’t know which college she will end up selecting yet, but BYU is still an option.”
Kym Skinner said living a fast-paced and intense lifestyle is all her daughter knows because she’s done it from such a young age. MyKayla Skinner has grown up gradually getting used to this lifestyle so now it’s just normal.
“When she was 18 months old I would hang her from the chin-up bar in our hallway and have her swing back and forth learning gymnastics skills,” said Skinner’s older sister, Chelsea Barney. “As she was growing up I had fun teaching her basic gymnastic skills.”
Skinner said she started to enjoy gymnastics because all of her older siblings were involved with it. She would tumble around the house, and then her mom finally decided to put her in the gym.
Spini said Skinner has risen through the different levels of gymnastics faster than any other female gymnast she’s seen.
“Her progress since coming to Desert Lights has been remarkable to say the least,” Spini said.
Skinner’s mother said it’s sometimes hard to watch her daughter do the high skills she does because if she falls there is a greater chance of injury.
“Although MyKayla’s skill level has progressed very quickly her confidence level has increased likewise enabling her to hit her routines the majority of the time,” she said.
An obstacle that serious gymnasts have to overcome is learning to train properly so they can stay uninjured.
“The most difficult part of training young athletes is trying to keep them as healthy as possible by minimizing impacts and pounding while still getting in enough repetitions for them to be competitive,” Spini said.
The Olympic Team roster will be decided by a series of competitions and training camps, including the 2012 Visa Championships and the Olympic Trials.
“MyKayla’s gymnastics career is not just about the 2012 Olympics. She is very young, just barely making the age requirement,” Spini said. “She has a long career ahead of her, including numerous international competition opportunities, such as World Championships and the 2016 Olympics.”