Great Performances: She Loves Me

Gymnast Kaitlyn Lyle practices 24 hours a week—no, that’s not a typo—in a sport that punishes the body.

Yet somehow the Sobrato High sophomore manages to balance academics and a crazy sports schedule and excel at a high level in both. Lyle is coming off another solid performance in the Junior Nationals, the fourth consecutive year in which she’s competed in the event at Level 10, which is just one level below the Elite stage.

“The fact that she’s made it out of our region one—which is the toughest of eight regions in the country—is really impressive,” said Krystal Van Buuren, who is the co-coach of Airborne Gymnastics in Santa Clara, where Lyle trains. “Kaitlyn is one of the most genuine, hard-working kids I’ve ever had the pleasure of coaching, and she’s also a super great leader within the program, which is nice to see.”

The 16-year-old Lyle loves competing with the best of the best, meaning she had a terrific time at the Junior Nationals, which took place in Cincinnati two weeks ago. To qualify for the Junior Nationals, Lyle had to get through the state stage—where she placed first in the bars, beam and floor to take third overall—before competing in the regional round.

Lyle placed first on the bars and finished fifth overall in the tougher regional round before taking 10th on the bars at the Junior Nationals.

“Seeing everyone competing at the highest level was super cool,” Lyle said. “It was the best of the best. I always try to go out there, have fun, get a personal-best score and ultimately place. I placed in the top 10 on the bars and got one of my better scores of the season on the vault, which was great.”

Lyle said she had perhaps her best performance of the season in the state championships, where she scored a 9.75 on the beam, 9.65 on the bars and 9.65 on the floor. After the state championships and Junior Nationals, Lyle had a feeling of peace and contentment, knowing she had put the work in and did all that she could to score at an optimum level.

“The feeling was kind of surreal,” she said. “It’s super rewarding and makes you realize all of the hard work does pay off and is worth it.”

One of the great moments in Lyle’s gymnastics career occurred at the California Grand Invitational in January, when she scored a 9.6 on the vault doing a variation of the Yurchenko vault.

“It’s a style of vault when Kaitlyn was younger, she flipped that vault into a pike or tuck position,” Van Buuren said. “But now that she is a little bigger, she’s doing a layout full twist, which is hard to do when you’re not super powerful. Kaitlyn is pretty tiny, so the power events have taken a little longer for her to develop, although she’s definitely gotten there. Because she is so petite, she had to essentially grow to gain that power to be able to do that vault.”

When Lyle completed the Yurchenko vault for the first time in competition at the Grand Invitational, both Lyle and Van Buuren had tears of joy as they embraced.

“It was such a great moment,” Van Buuren said. “Because every event you start at a 10, but when you don’t have the difficulty level (and certain required elements), you don’t start off on a 10. So she started off on a 10 in this event, and the last time she was able to attain this was when she was at Level 7. For her to be able to attain this year at Level 10 is awesome.”

Lyle also scored a 9.875 on the beam—“She’s always kind of been the beam queen,” Van Buuren said—at the Spirit of the Flame Invitational in Febrary, which established an Airborne Gymnastics program record at Level 10. Lyle also owns the program record for the highest score on the bars (9.825), which she set at the Pikes Peak Invitational in February. Lyle has three of the top 100 scores nationally, one on the bars (9.825) and three on the beam (9.75, 9.8, 9875).

“My favorite event is probably the beam because I’ve always felt confident on it,” Lyle said. “I’m pretty brave when it comes to the beam. A lot of girls are restricted because they’re so nervous and fearful, but for me, that’s never been the case.”

Lyle started doing gymnastics at age 7, inspired by seeing her older sister, Kiara, doing flips and cartwheels around the house. Kiara eventually chose diving over gymnastics, and she’s currently diving for Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo. Kaitlyn’s schedule makes one wonder how she gets through a day, let alone a year.

Lyle practices six days a week for 4 ½ to 5 hours a day. A typical day consists of Lyle waking up at 7 a.m., attending school and immediately heading off to practice, which usually ends around 8:30 p.m. Lyle gets home at 9:15 or later, upon which she starts her homework in the hope she is in bed by 12:45 a.m. Lyle only takes a week off after the Junior Nationals and a couple of other days off here and there throughout the season.

As you can imagine, this doesn’t leave Lyle much time—if any—to do simple things like hang out with friends. Lyle’s body, like every competitive gymnast, takes brutal punishment. All of the things a gymnast is required to do produces plenty of wear and tear on the body, and Lyle isn’t immune to the hazards of the sport.

“A lot of my body is hurting all the time,” she said. “By the end of the season, we get a week off to help revive you. The coaches are really great in taking care of us and modifying our workouts when needed.”

There was a time when Lyle competed at the Elite level; however, when one goes down that route, they often have to get home-schooled because the time and travel demands make it ultra difficult to go the traditional school route.

“She practices 24 hours a week, and the elites typically go 32 hours a week,” Van Buuren said. “She came to the realization she really wanted to focus on school and do well at Sobrato. She didn’t want to leave school.”

Lyle has earned straight A’s since her freshman year, and plans on taking three or more Advanced Placement classes for her junior year. Making Lyle’s accomplishments all the more impressive is the fact she has scoliosis, which is a sideways curvature of the spine. She also has an extra bone in her back and injured her back last year.

“I’m still trying to recover from it,” she said. “I have to go see a chiropractor and was doing physical therapy for a while. My bones are compressed, and it looks like they’re wearing down.”

Whenever things get tough, Lyle thinks about her teammates and the bigger picture to keep persevering.

“My mindset is to think about my goals and my teammates, who are always there to support me,” she said. “They all know we go through this together, and having a support system like this is very important. My teammates help me get through the toughest moments.”

Lyle plans on earning a Division I scholarship, and achieve at a high level in college. At that point, Lyle feels she’ll be ready to call it a career gymnastics-wise.

“After four years of doing college gymnastics, I feel my body will need a break,” she said.

It takes incredible agility, athleticism, strength and discipline to compete as a Level 10 gymnast, and Lyle possesses all of those characteristics. One look at her performances—which are accessible on YouTube—and one can’t help but be impressed by her sheer skill and balance in all the disciplines, especially the beam and bars.

“My friends are impressed whenever they see the videos of me on the bars,” Lyle said, when asked if she received looks of awe from her friends upon them seeing her in action for the first time. “Whenever I show them videos on the bars when I release the bar and catch it again, they think it’s the most amazing thing ever.”

The road to a college gymnastics scholarship is filled with obstacles and adversity. However, Lyle seemingly has all of the physical tools and mental mindset necessary to get there. The sacrifices she makes are huge; however, Lyle knows there are some things in life worth fighting for—and gymnastics is one of them.

“Ultimately, if I want my goal to come true, you have to sacrifice hours and time with friends in order to make my dream become a reality,” she said. “Making a college gymnastics team is the most important thing for me.”

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