Broken arm. Hyperextended leg. Chipped heel bone. Freshman Elinor Hilton points to some of the places she’s been injured over the past nine years. Her pink sweatshirt and bright-blue nail polish make it hard to imagine her tumbling across a gym floor or falling eight feet from uneven bars.
After participating in dance as a child, Hilton joined gymnastics, signing up for nine more years of intense competitions and practices. In fact, her dance instructor was the one who suggested she take up gymnastics.
“I spent more time doing flips than actually dancing,” Hilton said.
Hilton started gymnastics at 5 and found that as she increased in skill level, the sport quickly dominated her activities.
Hilton moved to Sacramento from Colleyville, Texas, two years ago, having come from the Texas-based gymnasium, Gymnastics Plus. She now practices at Technique Gymnastics in Rancho Cordova.
“This gym is a lot harder than my old gym.” she said.
Hilton practices five hours a day every day except Wednesdays, when practice at her skill level isn’t offered. Saturdays and Sundays aren’t exempt from practice either; she’s in the gym promptly at 8:30 a.m and out at 1:30 p.m.
After practice on school nights, Hilton gets home at 9 p.m. with just enough time to eat dinner, finish homework,and go to bed.
This strict regimen produces results; Hilton competes for Technique Gymnastics’s team against others of the same level from different gyms. In April, when Hilton was Level 7, she earned fifth in Northern California’s Level 7 State Championships for her age group.
A gymnast’s skill level (ranked 1-10) is determined by her coach and depends on her ability to consistently perform a set of skills spread out over vault, floor, beam and bars with mastery.
Levels 1-3 cover the basic skills of gymnastics (cartwheels, handstands, etc.); 4-6 require gymnasts to complete flyaway dismounts on bars among other skills; and 9-10 are considered college-level.
Hilton is at level 8. She has competed in 15 meets within the past four years and made it to Northern California’s State Championship in 2012.
To reach States, a gymnast needs to participate in three required trainer competitions and earn an average score of at least 32 of 40 points. After States, gymnasts who earn at least a 34 advance to Regionals.
Since Regionals aren’t offered for Level Seven competitors, Hilton was unable to compete last year. However, she hopes to place in her upcoming Level 8 competition and continues to push herself both physically and mentally in practice. She has racked up a number of injuries since her gymnastics career began: from chipping her heel bone and having to wear a boot for eight weeks to breaking her arm on bars during Level 4 and missing a year of training
In addition, Hilton has suffered from mild scoliosis since she was a child, although she insists it plays a minor role in her gymnastics career.
Despite the physical strains on her body and the difficulty of balancing school and training, Hilton remains dedicated. Her excitement was only fueled as the Olympics played practically 24/7 over the summer.
Hilton and her team eagerly watched the U.S. women’s team win gold. But, when asked about any future Olympic plans, Hilton smiles bashfully and shakes her head.
“It was one of my goals when I was younger, [but] I’m really just looking for a college scholarship.” she said.