June 2021. It’s the Pan American Championships in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. At the end of the competition a gymnast and her coach—who is also her mother—hug and cry. They’re happy tears, as Luciana Alvarado has just made history for herself, her family and her country. By placing second in the all-around, she’s notched her Tokyo Olympic qualification and will become the first Costa Rican gymnast to compete at the Olympic Games.
For Alvarado, the Olympic qualification was the highlight of her career, as it was the moment of ultimate fulfillment after years of hard work. “It was the best feeling in the world,” she explained. “You prepare and train for that moment your entire life, and seeing everything fall into place is the greatest feeling.”
The qualification, moreover, meant even more to Alvarado because it was both a game changer for Costa Rican gymnastics and the coronation of a family dream.
By becoming the first gymnast to represent Costa Rica at the Olympics, Alvarado knew that she was raising the status of the sport in her country and paving the way for future gymnasts to follow in her footsteps. “I know so many other kids and gymnasts think it is possible to dream big and work for an Olympic qualification,” she said. “As hard as it was, I feel like all the other Costa Rican gymnasts before me and I somehow paved the way for the little gymnasts and juniors who want to go to the Olympics one day.”
Additionally, the moment was extra special because Alvarado got to share it with her mother Sherlly Reid, who has coached her since she was a child. Alvarado grew up in a gymnastics family. Her mother, a former gymnast, opened her own gym club after retiring from the sport. As a result, Alvarado and her two older sisters grew up in the gym. Her middle sister, Mariana Sanchez Reid, was a former Costa Rican national team member and is now an assistant coach at their mother’s gym.
Since Alvarado was the youngest child in the family, she didn’t feel as much pressure to perform well while growing up, and even when things became more intense as her gymnastics career became more serious, she always managed to preserve a good relationship with her mother. “My mom always tried to leave gymnastics and coaching back in the gym and have a normal mother-daughter relationship with me and my sisters,” she explained. “Of course, having your whole world revolve around gymnastics wasn’t easy, but we managed to work through tough times. Something that I am super grateful for is that she helped me create a healthy relationship with gymnastics.”
Family values continued to be important to Alvarado at the Olympics, when she decided to include a Black Lives Matter tribute in her floor routine, ending her choreography taking a knee and raising her fist to the sky. “I decided to incorporate it in my routine as an example of justice, strength and love,” she explained. “I feel like to me and my family, honoring a movement that values justice and human rights is something so brave and really meaningful.”
The choreography didn’t go unnoticed, and Alvarado was celebrated in by such international news channels as CBS News, NBC and Teen Vogue, among others. The tribute was hailed as a meaningful and clever act of defiance against the Olympic rule forbidding athletes from making political protests.
The Olympics was one of the highlights of Alvarado’s career. Not only did she hit four for four, placing 51st in the all-around but, she explained, “getting to compete alongside my heroes was a dream come true.”
After the Olympics, she didn’t want to retire just yet, but she also wished to start her academic career. Since it’s almost impossible to manage both a full-time degree and elite training in Costa Rica, Alvarado decided to turn to the NCAA. College gymnastics, she explained, had always looked cool to her, as she loved the team and competition atmosphere, and studying in the United States was “an incredible opportunity.”
So it happened that she got in touch with Central Michigan, and it was love at first sight. “I chose Central Michigan because from the very beginning I felt comfortable. Everyone was so supportive, and I could see myself being a part of their team and school,” she explained. “I also got the chance to attend a meet and see the team cheer on each other, and their energy overall felt really healthy and so much fun. I really feel like the coaches and girls work together as a close team, and I knew from the start I wanted to be a part of that.”
As she prepares to leave for college this fall, she hopes to get to compete her favorite skills, to experience the team atmosphere to the fullest and to make new friends while also taking full advantage of the academic opportunities that the university offers.
After making history for her country, she now hopes to have “a healthy and happy” college career. What’s the secret of Alvarado’s success? Motivation. “Getting out of those places is really hard as an athlete and a person,” she said. “Motivation is super important and sometimes it’s so hard to gain it back, but I had to remind myself it was 100% worth it.”
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Article by Talitha Ilacqua
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