Family, school keep Higley gymnast grounded - East Valley Tribune: Columns

Family, school keep Higley gymnast grounded

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Michelle Reese covers education for the Tribune and blogs about motherhood and family issues at Contact her at

Michelle Reese covered education for the Tribune, also blogging about motherhood and family issues at

Posted: Monday, November 28, 2011 6:11 pm | Updated: 3:34 pm, Tue Aug 20, 2013.

A quiet energy bubbles in MyKayla Skinner's voice.

The 14-year-old Gilbert resident doesn't use a lot of words to describe her world as an elite gymnast on the U.S. national team. But perhaps she doesn't have to.

Her life is simple in some ways - gymnastics, school, family and church. But it's also so much more complicated than that.

For nearly 10 years, she's worked to perfect her skills. She reached a milestone in August when she was named to the U.S. team after being on the developmental team for several years.

A trip to the Olympics in London is a possibility next year. To prepare, she's now making nearly monthly weekend trips to Texas to train with the national coaches, in addition to dozens of hours of weekly training at Chandler's Desert Lights Gymnastics.

She's also navigating new territory: high school. Her mom, Kym, homeschooled her for two years (sixth and seventh grades) and enrolled her in online school in eighth grade to accommodate MyKayla's busy gymnastics schedule. But with help from staff at Higley High School, Kym said they decided to try public school again so MyKayla wouldn't miss out on a teen life.

"I get up and go to school (at 7:20 a.m.). I do four classes. Tuesday and Thursday I take seminary (religious classes through the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). Then I come home and get ready and go straight to gym," where she stays for seven hours, MyKayla said.

Homework? "I try to do it in the car on the way to gym. Sometimes I have to stay up late and work on it or I finish it in class."

In many ways, MyKayla's gymnastics training is a family affair, Kym, says. MyKayla is the youngest of four children, and the last one at home. Mom works part-time at the gym to help pay for training. She also volunteers for the gym's booster club, organizing competitions.

Kym no longer travels with MyKayla to Texas, but must keep her schedule in mind.

"It takes a lot of dedication and time. We can't take time off. You have to realize you just can't up and go for a week or two weeks. You can't go for vacations. So we try to do things when we're at a meet," Kym said. "Her brothers and sisters are really supporting her and they understand there are times we can't do things. Everyone is behind her."

It won't be until next summer - perhaps just weeks before the Olympics - that MyKayla will know whether or not she's made her ultimate goal.

But she's already looking beyond that, her mom said, with plans to compete clear through the 2016 Olympics.

"It's really exciting," Kym said. "We try to keep things simple and we try to not look at the huge, big picture, but it's getting close. The thing is, it is a possibility she could do it ... We're grateful for whatever she does. We try to keep her grounded, so it doesn't consume her life."



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