February 26, Indianapolis, Indiana. It’s the night of the Winter Cup, the first elite gymnastics competition on U.S. soil since 2019.
Ciena Alipio, in her senior debut, takes a deep breath before mounting the beam, her first apparatus of the evening. After a year and a half off the competition floor, her routine is a bit rusty, but being at the Cup and competing full routines is an achievement in itself.
As most California-based athletes, Alipio’s training schedule was disrupted for most of 2020, eventually forcing her to move gyms from West Valley to Midwest in Minnesota. “I never had a consistent training schedule, so keeping up with skills was a lot harder on me than I expected it to be,” Alipio said.
The Winter Cup, though, where Alipio placed sixth in the all around, was a milestone toward a return to normality. Since then, she has also competed at the American Classic and has committed to UCLA for the 2023 season.
As a 5-star recruit, Alipio had multiple collegiate options, but after careful consideration, she chose UCLA especially because of the Bruins’ coaching style. “It felt like somewhere where I was going to have a family by my side and not just girls who I am on a team with,” she said.
Once in college, she looks forward to playing around with skills and connections after years of difficult elite routines, and hopes to compete one of her two difficult acrobatic series on beam: either a back handspring to back handspring to layout to two feet or a side aerial to layout stepout to layout stepout.
Additionally, Alipio is excited about her first floor routine choreographed by BJ Das, as she loves the Bruins’ current viral routines. “It always looks like the girls are having so much fun and are really performing,” she said.
Before joining the Bruins, though, Alipio still has a few elite dreams she wishes to achieve.
This year, she hopes to qualify to the Olympic Trials and to be selected for the U.S. world championship team, while the following year she primarily wishes to enjoy her final year as an elite. “My goals are to make an international assignment and just have a lot of fun at my last national championships before I leave for college,” Alipio said.
With two competitions and a commitment to her dream college already under her belt, 2020 is already starting to look like a bad dream, yet Alipio doesn’t dismiss the difficult year, as she believes that the tough experience will make her stronger.
“This year has taught me that I need to trust that my body will remember what it is doing,” she said. “And I also know now that the more faith I have in myself to get through tough times will help me in the long run.”
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Article by Talitha Ilacqua
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