Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Interview with Alyssa Pritchett

Alyssa Pritchett, the former standout star from UCLA has been busy the past couple of months since her college career ended in April.  The walk-on who became a key player as an upperclassmen, has been training with the hopes of qualifying as elite for the first time.  I got the opportunity to talk to Alyssa about her past at Wildfire Gymnastics in Tustin, California, and UCLA, and her current training at Waller's GymJam Academy in Santa Clarita, California.
Daily Bruin

1. You walked onto the UCLA Gymnastics Team. Could you talk about how that differs from being recruited and the walk-on process.
Actually, I was a recruited walk-on. My junior year of high school Miss Val called up my gym and asked to meet with me. At the meeting she offered me a position on the team. I knew going in that there was not a scholarship position available, but UCLA was always my dream school, so giving up scholarship opportunities elsewhere was worth it. As far as the entry process, I was treated the same as any other scholarship athlete. My promised position on the team got me into UCLA (although I did have great academic standing as well), and I received all the same medical benefits as well as free gear, priority enrollment, free tutoring, etc. The only obvious difference between a recruited walk-on and a scholarship athlete is that I relied on student grants and loans to pay for school. 

2. You were apart of the team in 2010 when UCLA won the National Title. Was there anything different in the atmosphere leading up to the Championships? What was the team dynamic like leading up to and after Championships?
Our 2010 team was remarkable in so many ways. I knew we were going to win that year and not because we had the most talent because we definitely didn't. But we had such a strong team bond and so much heart. We also had some amazing upperclassmen who really led the team to that National Championship, such as Brittani McCullough, Anna Li, Niki Tom, Mizuki Sato, and the rest of the juniors and seniors. After not making super six the previous year due to a tie-breaker we lost to Utah, we were HUNGRY to win the next year. It's the hard work, passion, and sacrifice each teammate brought that year that allowed us to overcome our "lack of talent" with heart. After we won, it was a HUGE confidence burst for our team. That year molded my class to become leaders for the next group coming in. That year set the bar for us to never expect less than #1 each and every year no matter what obstacles we faced. 

3. How did your ankle injury change your mindset and allow you to become a more consistent contributor?
Looking back, that injury was such a blessing. I know that sounds weird, but that injury forced me to take a step back and evaluate what really matters. It forced me to learn how to be a valuable contributor on the team without actually doing gymnastics. It also allowed me to realize I was making gymnastics way too big in my head. I was focusing on pleasing the coaches and making the line up that I forgot to actually enjoy what I was doing. When I came back, I completely changed the way I trained. I realized that at any point, gymnastics could be taken away from me, and I wanted to have absolutely no regrets. Every turn in practice I would look up and take a second to thank God for giving me such an amazing gift. That allowed me to relax and enjoy gymnastics again. That, along with consistency in practice, was the key that allowed me to truly live up to my potential. It was letting go and giving my gymnastics up to God in gratitude that allowed me to have no regrets my last two years. Before my injury, I would tell people I would be happy if I got to compete just one time. After I changed my mindset, however, I realized there are no limits to what I can accomplish.

4. After your injury and began competing more frequently in 2012, how did that reflect your hard work in the gym?
It 100% reflected my hard work. I have always been a hard worker, but I have not always known how to train smart. That's why I dealt with so many injuries. I would over-train. When I came back from my injury, I realized something needed to change. I needed to make every turn count because my body couldn't take any bad landings anymore. I had to rely on mental imagery and technique a LOT. Chris Waller was hugely influential in developing me as a stronger gymnast mentally. I realized if I could picture it in my mind, then I could do it. Going into my senior year, I made a commitment to myself that I would be THE hardest worker in the entire country. I may not have the most talent, but NOBODY will work harder than me. And I really believe it was that mentality that gave me the confidence I needed to compete how I trained.

5. 2013 was your last year as a bruin. You won your first event title, established career highs, and contributed to a fourth place team finish in Pauley Pavilion. What was it like to finish your career at home at Nationals?
It was so amazing. I couldn't have asked for a better Nationals. All my friends and family were able to be there, and there is nothing like competing at home in the prestigious Pauley Pavilion. I never felt so much joy and confidence competing in my life. Even though we didn't win, I had absolutely no regrets. I had given it my all, and my team did too.

6. When did you realize that you wanted to continue doing gymnastics?
After Nationals. I remember standing there by our fourth place sign thinking, this can't be it. I love this sport way to much to give it up. I didn't know what I would be doing exactly, but I knew I was not about to quit. I actually even tried to petition for a 6th year since I was injured for most of my freshman and sophomore year as well, but I didn't make one of the qualifications. Competing in PGC only fired me up more to continue gymnastics, and then I thought, why don't I just completely go for it and train elite? So that's exactly what I decided to do. 
Professional Gymnastics Competition

7. What was competing at the Pro Gymnastics Challenge like?
It was SO much fun. I got to meet and train with all the best world and Olympic gymnasts - guys and girls! At first it was a little intimidating, but everyone was so nice, and after I showed my skills in the demo day, I realized I could actually battle it out with them. I loved PGC because its co-ed. The guy and girl dynamic made it so much fun. I made a lot of great friends from PGC as well. It was just an awesome experience. Hopefully I will get to do it again this spring!

9. Your coach Chris Waller coached UCLA Alumni Mohini Bhardwaj to an Olympic Team in 2004. Does knowing he has already helped Bhardwaj achieve her dreams help motivate you to train on hard days?
Definitely. What motivates me the most though, honestly, is that I truly believe God has given me this dream and this talent to inspire others. I want to encourage others and show them what is possible when you have faith. I want to show others that it doesn't matter if your not the favorite, or you aren't the most talented, or you were a walk-on "nobody" like me. ANYTHING is possible if you work hard, never give up, and have faith.

10. What skills are you planing on competing this year?
For floor, I am planning to compete double layout full out and/or double double, piked double arabian, half-in-half-out, and double pike. For the first meet though, I will compete a double layout, piked double arabian, half-in-half out, and double pike.
For beam, I am planning on competing flick lay, front tuck wolf jump, switch side, standing arabian, switch leap to switch half (add back tuck eventually), and double pike dismount. For the first meet I won't compete the arabian, and the dismount might be different.
For vault, I plan on competing a tsuk 1 1/2 and Yurchenko double. For the first meet, I want to compete tsuk full or 1 1/2.

11. Having never competing elite before, what are most excited for?
To  turn heads. I want to change the way people view elite gymnastics. I want to bring some life into the floor routines. I want to change the perception that you have to be 16 to be the best. I want to inspire girls to go after their dreams. I want to achieve far beyond what people think I will achieve. That's what excites me. 

12. How has your club training changed from when you trained at WildFire Gymnastics to your training at Gym-Jam?
I train completely different now. Before, I would train 25 hours a week or more. Now, I only train 15 hours a week - 4x a week, from 3-5 hours a day. The only reason I am able to train less, yet accomplish more is because I have learned how to train my mind. I don't have to do 50 of one skill to gain confidence. I already know I can do it, so I just need to do a few and make each one count. The only challenging event for me right now is beam because I didn't train it at all in college. But I am making a lot of progression. I have my skills now, and I am working more on consistency. I can't train every day anymore because of all the injuries my body has had in the past. That's why I train every other day... and my body feels great now! Another huge difference is my diet. In club, I ate everything and anything I wanted. It didn't seem to affect me because I trained so much. I not only did gymnastics but I ran track too, so I was burning calories like crazy. Now, since I train less, I eat extremely healthy because I want to do everything in my power to help my body stay in optimal condition and prevent injuries. I have never felt stronger and more in shape in my life. 

13. Is training elite different than you thought it would be?
In a sense yes. At first I thought I wouldn't have enough time to train, since I work two jobs - personal training from 5am-11am, then coaching from 4-8:30pm. But I just had to learn how to optimize my training outside of the gym. Training elite is a lifestyle, not just in the gym. Being an elite athlete means eating well, resting well and training well. It's all about balance and being efficient with the time you have.

14. Did you learn anything from Vanessa Zamarippa's elite attempt in 2010?
I learned how picky they are about the compulsory qualifier. I also learned how different the elite world is from the college environment. It's a lot more serious and even more "political" than collegiate gymnastics. One positive I learned from her experience was that they do value specialists. I know I can be a strong asset on floor especially. My difficulty score is in the 16's - right up there with the highest they have now.

15. What are your goals for 2014?
My goal is to first qualify elite, but after that, I want to win floor at Championships and make the National Team.
Best of luck Alyssa this season!


  1. thx - well written piece on a supa-talented gymnast who keeps improving...caring, beautiful, intelligent, diligent...will follow & support alyssa as long as i'm around.

    1. Thank you! Totally agree, such a well spoken young lady!