High school senior Mykayla Skinner made a back-to-school list this year: backpack, notebooks, gold medal.
The 17-year-old Mormon had hoped to check off that last item at the 2014 P&G Gymnastics Championships in Pittsburgh last weekend. Although she didn't bring home gold, she earned the next best thing: two silver medals in the vault and floor exercise competitions, respectively.
Skinner also finished fifth in the all-around and was named to the Senior National Team for the second consecutive year. Her next stop is the Senior Pan American Championships this weekend in Ontario, Canada. She also hopes to earn a trip to the World Championships in China this fall.
Skinner is no newcomer to elite gymnastics. In fact, this petite powerhouse from Gilbert, Arizona, might be the best-kept secret in gymnastics.
At the 2012 P&G National Championships, she earned a bronze medal on vault and came in 15th in the all-around, barely missing the chance to compete in the 2012 Olympic trials. Just a year later, at the 2013 championships, Skinner took the bronze on both vault and floor exercise and earned sixth in the all-around. She earned the spot even after two falls on the first day of competition.
Skinner has proven that she can keep up with the best gymnasts in the country. For the past seven years, she has trained under the watchful eye of National Team coordinator Martha Karolyi in Houston.
Skinner was chosen to represent the U.S. in Italy at the Trophy of Jesolo competition last March. She returned home with two individual gold medals for vault and floor and helped the U.S. win the team gold. Skinner also won first place at a recent National Team Training Camp verification, ahead of 2012 Olympic gold medalist Kyla Ross and other USA National Team members.
Earlier this month, Skinner competed in the 2014 Secret U.S. Classic in Chicago, earning a silver on vault and fifth place in the all-around. Her floor routine is one of the most difficult in the world.
“In the past year, I have really grown a lot,” Skinner said of both her ability and her confidence. As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, she prepares mentally and spiritually for every competition.
“Before I go to bed, I think about my routines and I pray a lot," she said.
“Mykala is currently ranked No. 1 in the world on vault and has the highest start value in the world on floor exercise,” said Lisa Spini, Skinner’s coach at Desert Lights Gymnastics in Arizona. “Martha is very pleased with her progress and even named her as one to watch for the coming World Championships this September.”
Skinner spends over 31 hours each week at the gym, Monday through Saturday. She begins school at 6:30 in the morning, eats lunch at home and heads to the gym just after noon. She and her coach also spend five days each month training in Houston.
Skinner’s mom, Kym, has worked part-time at the gym and organized gymnastic meets for many years to help cover expenses for the costly sport. She and her husband, Cris, are their daughter’s biggest cheerleaders.
“This has been a great year for Mykayla,” her mother said. “It’s amazing. She’s a whole different athlete, and her dance has really progressed.”
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After high school graduation, Skinner plans to take a year off to focus on gymnastics and hopes to make the 2016 Olympic team. She has verbally committed to attend the University of Utah.
For now, her senior year is just beginning. And while other teenagers take midterm exams and go to homecoming dances, Skinner will be vaulting, twisting and flipping her way around the world.
She plans to check it off her list.
Editor's note: Evelyn Hendrix is a friend of the Skinner family.
Evelyn Hendrix lives in Arizona where she is never forced to scrape ice from her windshield. She often writes about family, education, health and quirky people who simply make life better.