By Bert Eljera
LAS VEGAS – When she was a toddler, she loved to climb on everything, and so her parents decided to do something about it. They sent her to a gymnastics school.
Now, everybody is happy they did. Kyla Ross is now an Olympic gold medalist.
“My mom put me in gymnastics when I was three-years-old because I had so much energy and was extremely active,” Ross said on her official website.
Mom is Kiana, who is part Filipino. She is also part Puerto-Rican, while Ross’s father, Jason, is half-African-American and half-Japanese. The mixed heritage, plus being born in Hawaii, gives her a unique perspective and deep family support, Ross said.
At 15, Kyla is the youngest member of the Fierce Five, the renowned U.S. women’s gymnastic team that captured the gold in London – the first time a U.S. team won the team gold since the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
In addition to the team gold, the American women captured three other medals – a gold by Gabby Douglas in the all-around, a gold by Aly Raisman in the floor exercises and a bronze in the balance beam.
Ross competed in the uneven bars and the balanced beam. Jim Caple of ESPN described her routine this way:
“Kyla Ross, the only American who wasn’t on that world team last year (she was too young), performed like a ballerina with her long legs and gorgeous lines. She landed one somersault with her left foot curled over the edge of the beam, yet never flinched.”
Her scores of 14.933 on the uneven bars and 15.133 on the balance beam allowed the Americans to secure the gold medal.
Even though she’s the youngest on the team, Ross said she relishes her role. In an interview with Voice of America, she said:
“I enjoy sort of being the youngest and having older girls to look up to have advice for [me]…From this experience, it’s definitely been a really long journey and as my dad tells me, ‘You always have to enjoy the moment.”
Family has been a constant inspiration and source of support for Ross from the time she picked up her first gymnastic uniform and joined her first competition.
In addition to her mother, she was closest to her grandmother, Hawaiian-born Dianna Mascola, who shared the same Oct. 24 birthday with her.
“I think it gave us similar personalities,” Ross told Scott Reid of the Orange County Register. “Me and my grandma, we were just really close.”
“My mom and Kyla,” Kiana Ross said, “just had something special.”
In the same interview, Kiana Ross said that even after her mother died in 2010 of brain cancer, Kyla maintained her connection with her grandmother by wearing pieces of clothing or jewelry associated with Mascola.
She wore her grandmother’s earrings during the finals in the London Olympics.
While the chase for an Olympic gold is often an individual endeavor by the athlete, the dream itself is often a family affair. Everyone shares in the sacrifice, even siblings.
The parents of Ross’ teammate, Raisman, spoke of sacrifices taking the athlete to practices and competitions and the tremendous expenses incurred.
In the Olympics, some of the celebrated athletes, like Ryan Lochte, whose parents foreclosed their home, had suffered through financial difficulties. Lolo Jone was homeless at one time, and Gabby Douglas was pulled away from her family at age 14 to be home-schooled and live with a family she did not know.
Athletes in such countries as China enjoy government support while training and rich rewards for winning, especially Olympic gold, but Western athletes can also parlay their athletic achievements into financial windfalls.
The gold medal itself may cost only about $212 in value, but can be w0rth millions in endorsements.
But for Ross, though, it was a culmination of a youthful journey both joyful and full of achievements.
Ross began gymnastics at Greenville Gymnastics Training Center in South Carolina, and later at Richmond Olympiad and National Gymnastics Training Center before moving to Gym-Max Gymnastics in Costa Mesa, Calif. in 2005.
In 2009, she began her junior career, competing at the American Classic in San Diego, Calif., and placed second in the all around with a score of 55.316.
In 2010, the won the national juniors championship, and moved her up to the seniors competition.
Last March, Ross competed at the 2012 Pacific Rim Gymnastics Championships in Everett, Washington, and helped the American team place first. Individually, she placed second in the all around with a score of 59.200.
It was followed at the end of March with another huge victory at City of Jesolo Trophy in Jesolo, Italy, and at the Secret U.S. Classic in Chicago, where she placed second in the all around with a score of 59.800.
In early July, Ross competed at the Olympic trials in San Jose, Calif., placing first in the uneven bars and third on balance beam to earn a place on the Olympic team.
She was born Kyla Briana Ross on October 24, 1996 in Honolulu to Jason and Kiana Ross. She now lives in Aliso Viejo, Calif. with her parents and two younger sibling, Mckenna and Kayne.
She is currently in tenth grade at Aliso Viejo High School, graduating in the spring of 2015.
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