by Anna Rose Johnson
Once in a while, a bright new star appears on the horizon of junior gymnasts, and one of those promising young athletes is Hannah Sitzman, a 13-year-old with unlimited potential.
As a little girl, Hannah dabbled in several different team sports before choosing to pursue gymnastics. “I knew I had found my happy place,” she recalls. “I loved being in the gym and always wanted to practice to get better. My parents have never had to force me to go to gym. Getting up early for practice has always been easy for me, because I know that once I get to the gym, I will be happy and get to try new skills.”
Progressing quickly through the J.O. levels, Hannah was excited to transition to Level 7, where she could debut customized routines of her own unique style. She competed at Level 9 for two seasons before qualifying to the Level 9 Western Championships in 2017. “I was so excited and proud to go to Boise and compete for Region 3,” says Hannah, who placed 12th in the all-around in her division.
“I turned 13 earlier this month and am excited to start my first year as a Level 10,” Hannah tells us. “I look forward to learning all sorts of new skills and seeing how far I can push myself!”
Hannah already has phenomenal artistry on every apparatus. With flexibility and grace on balance beam, admirable swing and extension on bars, and a beautiful blend of energy and elegance on floor, Hannah has a bright future in this sport. “Last year was my first year trying to qualify for elite,” says Hannah, “and I qualified the compulsory part at the Brestyan’s meet in Las Vegas. This year my goal is to qualify both the optional and compulsory parts.” She’s looking forward to acquiring new skills when she reaches the elite level, in addition to meeting new gymnasts and competing against the world’s top athletes.
“I’m very excited to be a part of the next generation of Team USA,” Hannah tells us. “It seems like a long ways away, but I am looking forward to putting in the hard work to upgrade and clean up my skills. I would be excited to have little girls look up to me and be a role model to them.”
Also on Hannah’s bucket list? The Olympics. “I’d love to wear a USA leotard and represent my country,” she enthuses. “But I also realize the amount of work and dedication it will take to even be good enough for the coaches to [select me for] the team. I love watching the Olympics, and someday hope that I could be one of the four competing for the USA.”
Qualifying to the U.S. National Team wouldn’t be a first for Hannah’s prestigious gym. She trains at 5280 Gymnastics in Wheat Ridge, Colorado, home of current U.S. senior national team member Alyona Shchennikova. “I look up to her,” says Hannah. “I have developed a good friendship with her. She is super nice, funny, and one of the sweetest people I know. She motivates me to do the best I can. When I am struggling, she helps me and tells me I can do it. She trains hard, and that makes me want to train hard, too.”
Hannah draws inspiration from Olympic champions as well as her teammates. “Aly Raisman has always been one of my favorite gymnasts,” she says. “We are both Jewish and she did a floor routine to Hava Nagila when I was a little girl, which inspired me to pick a song from Fiddler on the Roof for my first optional floor routine.” Hannah also counts Laurie Hernandez among her role models in the sport, “because she makes gymnastics fun and is goofy. I like that she has fun competing.”
When watching Hannah’s beam routine, one is reminded of a young Nastia Liukin with her balletic and graceful style. “I haven’t been to any real ballet or dance classes, but I have done a lot of ballet and dance sessions in the gym,” says Hannah. “When I was young, I worked a [lot on] toe point and shapes, so hopefully those techniques will stay with me forever.”
Hannah’s long-term goals include making the national team and securing a scholarship to a Division I school. “It would be great to go to UCLA, Oklahoma, a Big 10 or SEC school,” she explains. “The crowds at college meets are so big now and it would be fun to compete in front of that many people.” As for short-term goals, Hannah is eager to qualify for Level 10 Nationals and become an elite gymnast. “I am working on perfecting my routines and increasing my start value on vault.”
Her next competition will be the Pikes Peak Cup on February 2nd in Colorado Springs. “Then we will be going to Orlando for the City of Lights Invitational,” says Hannah. “[Next I’ll be in] California for the Spirit of the Flame meet, which is the last weekend of February. It’s going to be a busy month!”
Gymnastics has been a great experience for Hannah. “It has taught me discipline and time management, and how to handle myself in tough situations as I get older,” she says. “It has introduced me to my best friends, who I have been training with and laughing with since I was 3!” And while she appreciates the wonderful memories she’s made in the past, Hannah is also anticipating the future. “I am very excited to see how these next years will go,” she says. “I know if I want to continue being successful and make it to the next level, I will have to put in a lot of time and hard work in the gym, [but] I know I am ready for it!”
Fun Facts about Hannah
Uneven Bars: “I have always loved flying through the air. Throughout my career, it has been my favorite most of the time. If bars isn’t hitting for me, I like beam because I can look graceful and I like a challenge!”
Favorite Competition Memories:
“Some of my most favorite meets were Parkettes in Pennsylvania, the Pikes Peak Cup at the Broadmoor in Colorado, and the Tim Rand meet in Orlando. The two meets that I really loved competing in were the Level 7 Region 3 in Galveston, where I won the all-around, and last year in Boise at the Level 9 Westerns.”
High School Graduation Year:
Alyona Shchennikova’s parents, Alex and Katia Shchennikova
Fun Outside the Gym:
“I like to just hang out and relax watching movies, listening to music, or reading a book, especially Harry Potter. When I have enough time, I like to bake and make desserts or cookies for my family. I love dogs and we are going to get a Labrador puppy soon! When there is a meet near an amusement park or beach, I love to spend a day there after the competition is over, and just have fun riding the roller-coasters and playing on the beach.”