Growing up in a gymnastics family, the sport was practically in Jessica Hutchinson’s blood. Most gymnastics fans know her mom, Silvia Hutchinson (née Mitova), for her success as a Bulgarian elite gymnast and her iconic floor routines before a tragic injury ended her career. While it might be expected that Silvia would have absolutely wanted Jessica to start gymnastics, that wasn’t necessarily the case.
Silvia and her husband opened Silvia’s Gymnastics in Zieglerville, Pennsylvania, when Jessica was 1 year old. That meant Jessica spent a lot of time at the gym before even thinking about enrolling in lessons.
“It just happened because she was always in the gym. She grew up in the gym with us, but I never thought, ‘Oh, I want her to be a gymnast.’ I wanted it to be her choice,” Silvia said.
Jessica emphasized this, adding that it was very similar to how Silvia herself started gymnastics.
“With her parents being her coaches from a very young age, she had a choice with doing gymnastics, but she grew up in the gym. It was kind of like a built-in choice. It was bound to happen,” Jessica said. “That’s how it was for me too because my parents opened up their own club gym when I was 1. My parents were always there working, and I’d just kind of be in the back. I ended up being in the gym and hanging out, and that’s how I started.”
Jessica pursuing the sport makes her a third-generation gymnast in her family, with her mom and grandmother, Maia Mitova, paving the way before her. She’s had her own unique journey in the sport, though, from a brief stint competing elite for Bulgaria to now doing college gymnastics at Denver.
What started as hanging around and playing in the gym turned into a competitive career. Silvia recalled the moment they decided to move Jessica up to the team level.
“When she was very little, we started her in level 4 because she was just playing in the gym and nobody was really coaching her. When it was time to choose our level 4 team, my mom said, ‘Well, let’s put Jessie in level 4,’ and I was like, ‘Mom, but she’s not ready.’ And my mom said, ‘Well, you know, it’s gonna be a good challenge, and it’s gonna make her grow.’”
It was a challenge at first, but Jessica was determined to improve and prove her place there.
“She did not start as being the best on team,” Silvia said. “She struggled on bars a lot, but every time there was an opportunity, she would go to bars and keep working extra. Nobody was making her do that. Usually the other kids—everyone was going to the event that they were best on, but Jessie was going to the event that she struggled on. She kept working and working until she caught up to everyone. Throughout the years she became really good.”
Silvia coached Jessica herself until Jessica was 10. Despite also being her daughter’s coach, Silvia and Jessica were able to maintain a healthy dynamic. Part of that was thanks to wise advice from Silvia’s mom.
“She said if I have to talk to Jessie about gymnastics, I have to do it in the gym. As soon as we leave the gym, then no more gymnastics,” Silvia said. “No matter if it was a bad day or if it doesn’t matter, just say whatever you need to say while you’re in the gym. As soon as you leave the gym, just be her mom.”
Still, that came with its own set of challenges.
“When she cried, that would hurt me too. I [didn’t] want to see her cry, and I [didn’t] want to see her struggle,” Silvia said. “Sometimes I wanted to be tough, but at the same time I wanted to be supportive.”
“The dynamic was a little tough because she would be a little bit tougher on me than on the other kids,” Jessica said. “At that point in my gymnastics career, I was just having fun. I had no idea what was going on, so I’d always get mad at her and I’d be like, ‘Mom, why are you being so much meaner to me than everybody else?’ And there was also the part where my mom didn’t want to have to bring gymnastics back home with us.”
At that point Silvia was playing many roles. In addition to being coach and mom, she also administered Jessica’s online school.
“I had this relationship with my mom for a little bit where it was like she was more of the pusher and not a comforter. When I was in about eighth or ninth grade, I think she realized this isn’t the relationship [she wanted] to have for the rest of my life,’” Jessica said. “That’s where she started to back off a little bit and give me the freedom, even with my schooling. From that point on, our relationship did really well. If I ever needed something, I could go to her and ask about it, but we had the actual mother-daughter relationship.”
Eventually, Silvia decided it was time to focus on being Jessica’s mom full time. That’s when Silvia’s parents transitioned to being Jessica’s coaches.
“I don’t know how my parents did it because they coached me as well,” Silvia said.
Silvia also knew that it was time to step aside from coaching and let her parents take over when she started getting frustrated.
“I always want her to give her best, and sometimes my expectations were very high,” Silvia said. “For example, it was in level 7. Jessie could do two back handsprings on the beam—she could do her back walkover back handspring perfectly fine—but in the first couple of competitions, she was scared to do it, and I was getting upset. And my mom—she’s just more calm. After a few moments like this, [I knew] it’s best if I’m just her mom and not getting upset about things like this.”
It didn’t hurt knowing Jessica was in good hands.
“We’re a family, and there is big trust. That was the best thing—to give Jessie to my parents. I knew she was always good,” Silvia said.
“My grandparents started coaching me when I was 11,” Jessica added. “From there, my mom would be in the gym sometimes when I was training, but she was just kind of on the side and she didn’t really have a say in what I did, which worked a lot better for me. My dynamic with my grandma was really good.”
Being coached by the same coaches resulted in Jessica developing a very similar style to her mother when it came to technique and the way she performed her gymnastics. However, the atmosphere Jessica was brought up in was completely different than her mother’s.
“I’ve realized that I’m not gonna be the same as her,” Jessica said. “I’m looking at my experience here at Denver and I’m like, I have so many more opportunities here, and it’s also so much of a more fun atmosphere for gymnastics. I’m trying to take advantage of the opportunities that I have instead of trying to compare what I do to what she’s done.”
Even on the sidelines, Silvia’s love for Jessica is clear.
“It was the first time I ever made nationals. I never knew my mom got so nervous when she was watching me,” Jessica said. “She sees me every day in the gym, there’s no big deal, but I was on beam and one of the parents took a video of my mom as she was watching me, and she was such a nervous wreck.”
“I walked up to my mom after … and I was like, ‘Mom, the skills I do are like 25% of what you did.’ Now whenever I’m at a meet, I think my mom’s probably up there watching, peeing her pants right now.’”
Jessica eventually made it to level 10 and competed elite for Bulgaria, just like her mom and grandma had done before her. While there was never pressure put on her to follow in her family’s footsteps, Jessica described competing elite as a hidden expectation and a pressure she put on herself.
“I’m a third-generation gymnast, and my mom and grandma did such amazing things,” Jessica said. “I don’t want to let them down, but at the same time, they’ve been very supportive of whatever I want to do.”
Silvia added that she didn’t put expectations on her daughter.
“I just wanted her to be her own person, but when she started getting really good, I started thinking about [the possibility of her going to the Olympics]. I never wanted her to be like me or do gymnastics. It just happened that way because the whole family is involved in the sport,” Silvia said. “She’s a very hard worker, so she got to that level because she wanted to.”
Her Bulgarian heritage allowed her to compete for her mom’s home country.
“I’ve had dual citizenship since I was a baby because my mom wanted me and my brother to always have it just in case,” Jessica said.
She also knew that if she was going to do elite, it would be for Bulgaria.
“My grandma knew [the Karolyi’s] was just not a great place. Since I had the opportunity to [represent Bulgaria], it’s just how it went,” Jessica said.
Like many on the elite path, she recalled liking training hard skills, noting that she got bored easily and always wanted to be learning something new.
“By the time I was about 11 or 12, I was able to put elite routines together that would be able to compete, maybe not for the US, but for Bulgaria for sure,” Jessica said. “We got a call from the Bulgarian head coach who’s still really good friends with my mom.”
A highlight of her elite experience was competing at the 2016 European Championships in Switzerland. It was her first major elite competition, and she competed against big-name elites, some of whom are now Olympians.
“Seeing all of those big names, I was just in awe of everything that was going on around me. I had no idea what was going on, but I was soaking it all in,” Jessica said.
Traveling for elite competitions also gave her the chance to compete in Bulgaria, and it wasn’t until then that she realized just how famous her mom was.
“When I was younger, my mom never really brought up that much about her gymnastics career because I think in a way she had a little bit of unfinished business. I had to start asking her questions … It was actually really cool to hear all of it because that’s my mom. She just seems like a regular person to me,” Jessica said.
The Olympics crossed her mind as a goal to pursue, but they ultimately weren’t in the cards.
“For a while I was competing for Bulgaria and I was thinking maybe I could be a third generation Olympian, but as time went on, I tore my ACL and it was very tough for me at that point to decide if I wanted to keep going,” Jessica said. “[My mom and grandma] were very supportive and knew the college route was definitely the best for me because there’s so much more opportunity with that than I would’ve had any other way.”
She originally committed to Florida, but after her ACL tear set her back, Florida was weary. Jessica noted that they also made her aware that she likely wouldn’t get the amount of training needed to make lineups. It was a situation she described as uncomfortable.
She decided to look elsewhere, and the next day the Denver coaches, whom she had a prior recruiting relationship with, asked to come watch a practice. After that, she visited Denver herself.
“Right away I realized compared to my other experience that this was really a place where I felt like I fit in very well,” Jessica said. “They actually truly cared about me. The atmosphere of trust and communication was all there, which was something that I didn’t even realize was something I could have.”
She emphasized that she felt at home at Denver.
“They really made me feel like I was at home, which was a very hard thing for me since I grew up with my family coaching me for my entire life,” Jessica said. “I wanted to be at a place where I felt comfortable around the coaches, like I was able to speak up and communicate and not be too nervous to say anything. Looking back, everything really does happen for a reason, and everything falls into place how it’s supposed to be, because I can’t imagine myself being anywhere else.”
She’s already made a name for herself at Denver, and her sophomore season is just beginning. Because of a bout with COVID, she’s still working back to full strength, but her goals include enjoying the moment, trusting the process and potentially becoming a three-time All-American.
Her floor routine already gained traction around the gymternet after the team’s annual Crimson & Gold intrasquad in December. The music is the result of working with a company that makes cheerleading music. Two of the employees are big Denver fans and became close with the team. Denver asked if they could do gymnastics music, and they said yes. Jessica noted that they know each of the gymnasts individually very well. The inspiration for Jessica’s routine ultimately came from her heritage.
“When I came to Denver, I had a meeting with him. He started right away last year with the European style, and it ended up working very well for me,” Jessica said.
When it came to this year, she wanted something similar but that was a little more upbeat.
And the choreographer responsible for the moves? Hallie Mossett, former UCLA gymnast and current LIU assistant coach.
“She comes in each year and makes our floor routines. I told her, ‘I love what we did last year, but I’d like it to be a little more dancier, a little more fun.’ It all worked out really well,” Jessica said.
Even so, she didn’t expect to see the hype she initially got after the team’s intrasquad.
“Lynnzee Brown actually texted me, and she was like, ‘Jess, have you seen Twitter?’ I looked and [was so excited] because I know my mom always had such an iconic floor routine, and I always wanted to have that too but I didn’t think it was actually going to happen.”
While Jessica has yet to debut her floor routine officially for the 2022 season, it’s only a matter of time. She’s only competed on vault to start the year but is expected back on her other events in the coming weeks. And gym fans won’t want to miss it.
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Article by Tara Graeve
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