Flying to success
TJ Gymnastics has shaped senior Alexis Echano’s journey with the sport
December 18, 2019
Pacing back and forth in one straight line, senior Alexis Echano moves her hands in the air. She’s known on her team for this habit. Taking one last deep breath, she walks up to perform.
This isn’t Echano’s first sport though. She discovered her passion for gymnastics thirteen years ago as a dancer.
“I was originally doing dance when I was four and then I [thought] ‘Look they’re flipping around, why don’t I join.’ I started competitive gymnastics when I was about 11. That was the beginning of middle school,” Echano said. “It was just a really fun sport because you could do anything you wanted.”
With competitions came the pressure of performance.
“It’s a very mental sport especially when competing; it is just you, it is not a team sport which makes it even harder. People have to be silent and you are just with your thoughts and I think that is really stressful,” Echano said.
Although stressful, the awareness that comes with performing has influenced her perspective on aspects of her life such as school.
“I think gymnastics and having to go through that [stress] especially before events like beam helped me in school. You learn how to manage your stress and at that point not everything is a big deal,” Echano said. “Before gymnastics everything was so magnified, but after I fall, I get back up.”
Echano started training with the club GMS gymnastics in Manassas, VA. While high-school gymnastics emphasizes gaining the skills for performing, club gymnastics brings intense competition between club members as perfection in each skill is emphasized.
“We did a lot more conditioning and strength training in club, because we had to do a lot more physical moves. In high school gymnastics everyone varies by level so you kind of do what you can do but in club gymnastics you have to hit certain benchmarks so everyone had the same skills and had to be perfect,” Echano said.
In 2016, Echano went on the win the Virginia State Beam Championships as an eighth-grader with GMS. However, Echano faced an important decision as a freshman. She needed to figure out how to balance gymnastics with the intense coursework at Jefferson.
“In middle school I was practicing and doing meets for about 15-20 hours a week. So going to TJ, I really I had to make a choice. Can I continue it? And I figured out doing five-hour practices with five hours of homework did not add up,” Echano said.
Although she quit club gymnastics, Echano has still been able to expand her involvement in the sport throughout high school.
“Freshman year I was the only underclassmen who qualified for regionals so I had to go by myself with a senior and they were all talking about college and I was just there for vault actually,” Echano said.
High school gymnastics has equipped Echano with new skills, many of which score higher than past skills. One of these skills is the flyaway off bar, a back-tuck dismount off the bars. Besides the complexity of this move, it’s also very dangerous if done improperly.
“I am the shortest person on my team and the bars are usually very far from me. I have to jump a lot more and timing is such a big issue. I would always fall,” Echano said. “I know one person almost landed on their neck, so it’s a very scary move. I think that one really tested me and when I was able to land it, it just felt so good.”
“Another highlight is that for the first time in like five years I think TJ gymnastics, the entire team, actually made it to regionals in sophomore year. But that was a big highlight, us finally getting to regionals, that was amazing.”
Echano has been here for many of TJ gymnastics highlights. In her sophomore year, the entire team made regionals for the first time in five years. That same season, she was appointed captain, a role through which she has taken on greater leadership.
“I was glad that we had one senior who was also a co-captain with us. But as a junior because we had physics, we had calculus. It was a really hard time going to practice regularly until ten at night and having to study for physics for three hours,” Echano said. “I think that was a big balancing act, and that was the biggest challenge.”
Despite the challenge, Echano found ways to handle junior year pressure with her duties as a captain. She worked with her teammates to make the most of practice time.
“Sometimes I would ask my coach if I could leave a little bit early so I can drive home and start studying a little bit earlier than ten. I had other juniors with me, like my co-captain, Asha Rollins, so we would study during little breaks during practice,” Echano said. “Gymnastics is such a physics based sport anyways, so that was actually kind of helpful.”
The opportunity to combine self-expression and creativity with technicality has made gymnastics especially meaningful for Echano. For example, she has been able to design her own routines for floor in high school gymnastics.
“I have had the same routine actually since I began doing competitive gymnastics so I have had this song for six or seven years, it is ‘On the Floor’ by Jennifer Lopez,” Echano said. “I didn’t have that flexibility in club so being able to do that-it kind of puts your own flair in it, and I look forward to doing a dance to my favorite song.”
With this freedom, comes vulnerability. Gymnastics is unique in that while the injuries can be debilitating, no protective gear, such as helmets and padding, are worn.
“It’s about learning to be vulnerable, presenting your best self. That’s the big takeaway I have gotten from the sport. You have to be comfortable with yourself and focus on what you are doing,” Echano said. “If you are flipping, you can’t focus on what other people are doing, because you can get hurt.”
Echano finds that gymnastics has made her stronger in all aspects of life, as the lessons she takes away from the sport have informed her perspective on life.
“I’m trying to take that into my own real life. And trying to focus on being myself and not really focusing on what other people are doing,” Echano said. “If you focus on anything else, you are going to fall.”