After a Lifetime Together, Twins Hannah and Emma Loyim Prepare for Separate NCAA Journeys

It’s the final day of level 10 nationals in Daytona Beach, Florida. During the medal ceremony of the Senior F division, a murmur of delighted surprise rises from the small crowd. The speaker has just announced that twin sisters Hannah and Emma Loyim, in their last competition together before leaving for college, have tied for bronze on the uneven bars. 

The tie didn’t especially surprise the twins, as Hannah and Emma have shared an almost identical gymnastics journey since they were children. They got involved in gymnastics together as toddlers, learning new skills and climbing up the different levels of the sport, always side by side. They began competing at level 10 at the same meet in 2018 and qualified together to three national championships. And together they started their collegiate recruiting process, creating similar social media accounts and initially corresponding with the same colleges. 

Tying for bronze at nationals, nevertheless, represented the cherry on top for the twins because it was their last competition together. The sisters will now embark on separate paths in college, as Hannah will join Iowa State next month while Emma recently left for Boise State.

Their decision to go separate ways surprises people who assume that twins prefer to stick together. From the beginning of their recruiting journey, however, Hannah and Emma regarded college as an opportunity to grow into their own person and become independent of one another. “As we get older, we’re not always going to be side by side together, so we need to learn how to get used to being different and doing different things,” Hannah explained.

Growing up together in the same sport, Emma added, “we created such a strong bond that I don’t think any bond can be any stronger than we have. But we want to have our own experiences, and if we need to split one time in our lives, this will be a great time to do it because college is the next chapter of your life.”

Hannah and Emma started their recruiting process at the beginning of their freshman year of high school with the help of a recruiting coordinator. They initially reached out to the same colleges, even though they kept emails and phone calls entirely separate.

A year and a half later, Hannah was the first to commit. Iowa State was not one of the schools she was originally in contact with, but the Cyclones got in touch with her and she slowly fell in love with everything it was offering. “I didn’t have specific details about what I was looking for, but when I visited Iowa State and I spoke to the coaches, I just knew [it was] different and I [felt] more at home,” Hannah said. “When I went to the summer camp after I committed, I got to know the team, and it was everything that I was looking for that I didn’t even know. It just felt right when I got to Iowa State.”

Hannah’s commitment left Emma to continue the recruiting process on her own, and it inevitably added extra pressure on her to find a college, too. “I was so happy when Hannah committed that I didn’t want to take anything away from her and I knew that eventually I would find a college,” Emma said.

However, she added, her sister’s commitment “did add a little bit more stress and pressure because I was thinking, ‘I really need to commit to a school right now.’ It was hard to teach me this, but I needed to understand that my journey was going to look different from Hannah’s, but eventually I would find something.”

In the end, the offer arrived from Boise State, which was the first college Emma had ever contacted. “I’d actually known one of the co-head coaches that used to work there, Neil Resnick, who recently retired, since we were both 9 years old because we went to TOPS camps and the Karolyi Ranch,” Emma said. “When we called, he remembered us, which was so cool, and he was like, ‘I’m so excited to go down the recruiting process with you.’”

After attending the Broncos’ summer camps, talking to the other coaches and meeting the team, Emma became convinced that Boise State was the school she wanted to call home. “I fell in love and everything came together,” she said. “When I got the offer, it was a dream come true for me.”

Taking part in their future colleges’ respective summer camps was instrumental for Hannah and Emma to understand that they were comfortable around their future coaches and teammates. They both appreciated the coaches’ focus on technique and drills, as well as their attention to gymnasts’ individual needs. Hannah was “a little intimidated” by the Iowa State coaches at first, but she explained, “Once I got to know them, they were so nice—they treated you like a person not like a machine who has to go out there and do their job.” At Boise State, Emma found the coaches “very encouraging and very positive, and the team cheering and pumping you up felt great.” 

Additionally, at one of the Broncos’ camps, Emma found a close friend in Elaina McGovern, one of Boise State’s four incoming freshmen. “I remember sitting next to her watching practice, and when I said goodbye because I had to leave for my plane, in my head I was thinking, ‘I’m never going to see her again, that stinks,’” Emma said. “But then she committed, and now we’ve become so close. We text each other and FaceTime each other every single day. Everything I do, I just tell Elaina.”

For Hannah, seeing Emma getting so close to McGovern and the other freshmen—Alyssa Vulaj and Blake Pascal—at this early stage gives her a sense of relief. “Watching you connect with your future teammates, I know that you’re going to be just fine going into college because you have them,” she told Emma. 

At the same time, the separation is going to have its struggles. Hannah was especially struck by it when she found out that Emma was going to leave for Boise at the end of June, which was earlier than they expected. “We were talking about our last summer together, and we made all these plans. Then we learned that she’s going to leave before summer even starts. So I was like, ‘OK, I knew we were going to be separated at some point, but I wasn’t ready for it to be this early,” Hannah said. “It’s starting to feel real now. It’s really sad, and it’s definitely going to be weird getting used to not having Emma there. But we’ll figure it out. I’m excited to see [her] go on [her] own journey.”

Emma became conscious of the unique bond that she and Hannah share during the last banquet at their gym, North Stars, when one of her coaches said they hoped she would find a similar bond to the one she has with Hannah in college. That, however, is not possible. “The bond I have with Hannah is irreplaceable,” she said.

Throughout their gymnastics career, Hannah’s and Emma’s unique bond has led them to become each other’s biggest supporters, but also each other’s biggest competition. 

The healthy competition between the twins began the moment they got into the gym. One day, a family story goes, toddler Hannah learned to perform a back handspring on the Tumbl Trak, the first of the twins to be able to do the skill. Emma, who was dressing up to leave, came back into the gym, undressed, mounted the Tumbl Trak and announced, “I can do it, too!” She then began to perform a series of back handsprings down the strip under the astonished eye of her coaches and parents.

The twins’ competition for new skills continued throughout their career. When Hannah came back from an Iowa State camp with a brand new double layout dismount off bars, Emma doubled her efforts to achieve it, too. “I saw [Hannah] doing it and I was like, ‘I need to get this skill,’” Emma said. “So I worked really hard, I did it every single day in the gym and I eventually got it.” Similarly, when Emma moved her triple series from the low to the high beam, Hannah felt prompted to do it as well. “My coach is like, ‘Hannah, do you think you can do that?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, of course,’” Hannah recalled.

“Even though sometimes we’re nervous going for a skill, when we see the other one doing it, we’re like, ‘I can do that,’” Hannah explained. “Being able to train with your toughest competition makes you even more motivated, and it helps you to continue getting better and better every day.”

At the same time, the competition between the twins never gets in the way of their bond. “If one of us messes up at a meet and the other does really well, we’re never jealous of each other; we’re always happy for each other,” Emma said. When Hannah qualified to the Nastia Liukin Cup earlier this year, for example, Emma, who was also competing at the qualifier, was delighted for her. “When she made it, I made it in a way,” she said. “I was so proud of her, and it was amazing to see that everything she’d been working for was happening and was all paying off for her. So we’re also each other’s biggest fans.”

The twins’ third-place tie at nationals last May was emblematic of their healthy competition. Their rivalry on bars went back to regionals, when Emma scored a career-high 9.725 but lost out on the gold medal to her twin sister’s own 9.800 career high. “I was like, ‘Oh man, you really had to do that!’” Emma joked.

Once at nationals, Emma told herself that “I really need to step it up if I want to get to the level that Hannah’s on.” And she did. Competing before her sister, she performed her best routine of the season, hitting her new Ray, sticking her dismount and posting a career high 9.750. 

As Hannah watched her compete, she couldn’t be prouder of her twin’s hit routine. “Whenever she competes, it feels like I’m competing,” she said. “So seeing her do her best routine of the season and get her career high score and stick her landing, I couldn’t be more proud. I almost started crying. I was so overwhelmed for her.” Although she didn’t think of Emma’s routine while competing, seeing her sister hit her best set was a boost that helped Hannah hit one of her best routines, too.

In the end, when they found out that they had tied, they were both ecstatic. “I was really happy that could happen,” Emma said. “When we held hands with each other on the podium in third place, it was a great way to end our senior season—it was a dream come true.”

Now that the season is over and the beginning of their separate college journeys approaches, Hannah and Emma are sad, but they also know that it’s going to be fine—distance is not going to break up their unique sisterly bond. 

“Even though we will be in different colleges and we won’t be training every single day next to each other and competing with each other, we still know that we’re supporting each other, no matter how far we are from each other,” Hannah said. “We’ll never lose that connection that we have together, even though we’ll be miles and miles apart. Our relationship doesn’t change.”

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Article by Talitha Ilacqua

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