“Refreshingly original.” “Beautiful flexibility.” “Unbeliveable.”
At first, you would assume that those comments are in reference to an elite gymnast, perhaps someone who has won World or Olympic medals. But in actuality, they are quotes from gymnastics fans describing the exquisite balance beam routine of Mahleea Werline, an ambitious Level 8 gymnast from Aftershock Gymnastics in Palm Desert, California.
Mahleea’s coach and choreographer is Alison Vaughn, who has coached Mahleea “since she was too young to even compete,” as Alison puts it. “When she was little, believe it or not, she would refuse to participate in any of the dance games because she was too embarrassed to get out in front of everyone. We definitely do not have that problem anymore!”
Aspiring to Excellence
Mahleea has come a long way since the days when she didn’t want to dance. The 10-year-old is currently working hard on gaining Level 9 skills, and she’s looking forward to attending her first developmental invite camp this month. When she’s not doing gymnastics, the honor student enjoys singing, listening to music on her iPod, and playing Minecraft and Shopkins.
She has lofty goals for the future, but right now she’s concentrating on the short-term. “My short-term goals are to work hard, do great this season, and do well at developmental camp in a couple of weeks,” she told us. “I’m looking forward to future camps too, because then I’ll get trained by the best coaches and get really, really good. Being able to train at the ranch is so cool, because when you go into the first gym, you see all the pictures of all the Olympic gymnasts that won gold… even from the first time the USA ever won gold. It is inspiring to be able to train where all the Olympians train.”
Mahleea has some wonderful role models that she looks to for inspiration. “I like to watch Simone Biles and Aly Raisman,” she noted, “and I like Nastia Liukin and Kyla Ross for their bars too. I like that they hit every handstand perfectly and have really good flow and rhythm. Nastia Liukin and Simone Biles are who I look up to because they’ve both been so successful and have won gold at the biggest meets. And I really want to get a gold medal too, [in] the sport I really love.”
Artistry in Motion
There is good reason to believe that someday, aspiring young gymnasts will be looking up to Mahleea as a role model. We recently shared a video on Facebook of Mahleea’s balance beam routine which was hugely popular with fans—the video has nearly 10,000 views to date. The routine’s creative artistry truly struck a chord with many people. Her beam mount, which she invented herself, is a testament to her strength and flexibility, and the work she does underneath the beam is reminiscent of bygone days. “My coach has awesome choreography, and had originally put an ‘under the beam’ thing in another girl’s beam routine that [eventually got] taken out,” Mahleea explained. “I loved that it was different, so we started playing around with the idea in my routine, and my coach decided to add what I do now. It is so much fun.”
Alison, who told us that the enthusiastic response to Mahleea’s beam video was “totally unexpected and very appreciated,” explained that she was hugely influenced by Patty Jo Resnick, and the “amazing legacy of standout athletes” that Resnick and her husband, Neil, have coached at Flips Gymnastics in Reno. “Every beam routine [that Resnick coached] had something unique in it. A wow factor. I am fortunate that over the years Patty has been able to mentor me on artistry, and let me tell you, I listen!”
Mahleea’s confidence in her sport is obvious. On floor exercise, where she performs to a mix that includes the song “Let It Go,” Mahleea utilizes a remarkable range of styles that demonstrate her versatility, ballet background, and jazz training. (Patty Jo Resnick also choreographed Mahleea’s floor.) And floor and beam aren’t the only events at which she excels—her favorite event besides beam is bars, where she has lovely extension and toe point that are well beyond her ten years of age. “She has great presence out on the competition floor and is totally confident in herself,” said Alison. “I love that about her. At her first optional meet, the entire audience applauded at the end of her floor routine…and I knew she had something pretty special. And we have a very close relationship, so that is fun too. I am tough on her, but I’m always telling her it’s because I believe in her so much.”
Mahleea is extremely appreciative of her support system, which consists of her parents, her younger brother Hunter, and Alison. “I would like to thank my parents for always supporting me no matter what, and Hunter, for making sacrifices like missing a soccer game to watch me at a meet. I would also like to thank my coach Alison; she is tough, and helps me work hard so that I can achieve my goals. With my parents’ support and Alison as my coach, I know I can do anything.”
Putting It All Together
Alison fosters an enthusiastic environment in the gym, and encourages her gymnasts to take studio dance. “We still do about 2-3 hours of ballet a week,” she commented. “From there, we play, play, play. The girls love it, and we make up the coolest things together.”
Mahleea likes the way that Aftershock gymnasts create their beam routines. “Usually what we do in the summer is play around with poses and play around with funky movements,” she said. “You get five poses. [I] choose five at a time and then show my coach, and if she likes them, then we keep it until my beam routine gets made up at a fun beam sleepover we have every year.”
Perhaps it’s because Mahleea has so much input in her routines that the result is an influx of artistry. Alison explained, “Sometimes when you add originality or extra dance, you open yourself up to extra deductions. It is so important to recognize and reward the gymnasts that are going above and beyond to entertain and truly perform. Mahleea and all those athletes that spend time on artistry really are deserving of the recognition. She has been working on a future beam routine with Patty, and since her current routine was so well-received, we’ve decided to bring out the special Patty Resnick routine a little early. It’s a beauty!”
Alison is very excited for Mahleea’s gymnastics future; she calls her “a little superstar in the making.” She also says that the stunning artistry won’t fade as Mahleea gets older. “Our goal [is] to keep the artistry level high as she reaches the higher levels, and not water it back to rest up for bigger skills,” she explained.
Mahleea makes no secret of her goals in her beloved sport. “My long-term goals are to get a scholarship to a Division I school, make [the] national team, and make it to the 2024 Olympics and win gold.”
Anna Rose Johnson writes about women’s artistic and rhythmic gymnastics. She loves Whippets, brownies, and full-twisting double layouts. Her writing portfolio can be viewed at: https://annarosejohnson.contently.com