MyKayla Skinner reflects on a lifetime in gymnastics

RIO DE JANEIRO — For Gilbert resident MyKayla Skinner, a lifetime of rolling and flipping in the Arizona desert has led to practicing on balance beams in the jungles of Rio.

But with all the time and energy put into gymnastics, she will probably not see the floor during this year’s Olympics.

Despite finishing fourth overall in the Olympic trials, ahead of Gabby Douglas and Madison Kocian, Skinner is spending what is perhaps her last chance at the Olympics cheering for Team USA from the sidelines.

She has come to Rio as one of three alternates for the U.S. gymnastics team, keeping herself ready should Douglas, Kocian, Simone Biles, Aly Raisman or Lauren Hernandez get hurt and can’t perform.

But Skinner has handled the circumstances with the same class and grace she displays on the floor. She is doing what she can to stay ready should the worst come about for one of the members of the women’s gymnastics team. And when asked, she’ll tell you that she doesn’t regret a moment she’s spent following her passion.

“I worked my whole life for this,” she said. “I’m grateful to even be an alternate at the Olympics.”

The way she looks at it, she could have never been here at all: Skinner’s mother went into labor early while she was pregnant with MyKayla, and the doctors had to perform a cesarean section in order to deliver her. The difficult birthing process almost killed both of them, and a dream of representing the United States on the global stage almost came to an end before it could start.

“I was pretty much black and blue,” Skinner said. “But somehow after a couple of minutes they revived me.”

She still thinks it’s crazy that she almost didn’t live to see the day she would be training in the practice gyms that are set up around Flamengo Park for the Olympic gymnastics competitions. Instead of becoming bitter, she has a more even-keeled view of being an Olympic alternate. She has worked her whole life for this moment and recalls the level of sacrifice and dedication she had to commit in order to reach this point.

MyKayla Skinner represents Team USA as an alternate at the Flamengo Club. (Photo by Jaclyn Chung/Cronkite News)

MyKayla Skinner represents Team USA as an alternate at the Flamengo Club. (Photo by Jaclyn Chung/Cronkite News)

“I’ve missed so many family events…other different things I wanted to go to,” she said. “You have to be totally dedicated to and focused into this sport. You don’t ever miss a day even if you’re sick.”

What started with just doing flips around the house with her sisters has turned into a decorated career in gymnastics marked by three individual medals at the 2014 World Championships.

She and the other alternates have been encouraging themselves and maintaining positive attitudes throughout this whole ordeal.

“We actually made a thing in our room where we could put positive quotes,” she said. “And every day when we came back to the room and finish we’d rip one off like ‘Hey today was a good practice.’ We just try to stay as positive as we can.”

Skinner is looking forward to some time off after the gymnastics competition ends in Rio. In the fall, she will attend the University of Utah on a full gymnastics scholarship. She is excited to return to the place she called home when she was 7 years old and its fervent base of gymnastics fans.

“I really wanted to be a Utah gymnast because the crowd was so huge and just seemed so pumped and so much fun,” Skinner said. “I’ve been to other college meets and I’m just really in love with Utah.”

Lisa Spini, head coach at Desert Lights Gymnastics in Chandler, has worked with Skinner for the past eight years. She has watched her grow from a mid-level performer to one of the top gymnasts in the world. Spini believes that she has all the tools to be an elite college gymnast at Utah.

“I would think she could be great on every event,” she said. “She would certainly be a candidate to win the all around NCAAs.”

While her days of competing in global competitions are drawing to a close, she cherishes what she has been able to accomplish and is looking forward to what comes next.

“Just training and having all the experience has been amazing,” she said. “I can’t wait to see what life has after this.”