By Anna Rose Johnson

A big international assignment kicked off 2017 for MG Elite’s Riley McCusker — she was selected to compete at the prestigious American Cup in Newark, New Jersey, where she placed fifth in the all-around and cemented herself as a major contender for the U.S. “That was not only my first senior international assignment, but my first international competition ever,” Riley remembers. “Then I competed in Jesolo, where I earned first place in the all-around, first on beam and second on bars.”

Feature Photo by Lloyd Smith

Riley competed on two apparatuses at the U.S. Classic in July 2017, and followed up that performance with a gold medal on uneven bars at the U.S. Championships, an accomplishment of which Riley is “very proud!” Unfortunately, her season ended after Championships due to a hamstring injury, which forced her to withdraw from the 2017 Worlds team selection camp.

Currently, Riley’s training is progressing well, and she’s gearing up for the 2018 summer season. “This year, I plan to upgrade bars [with a] new connection, beam (a lot of new stuff!), and floor (double layout),” she says. Although Riley prefers to stay focused on each day instead of the future, she does plan to compete at both Classics and Nationals — and she has a few long-term goals as well. “This season, I would like to make the Worlds team and show a great quality of gymnastics,” she tells us. “My ultimate goal is 2020.”

Riley maintains a busy schedule as she chases her gymnastics dreams. “I go to the gym in the morning [and] train from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.,” she says. “Then I do schoolwork/lunch, then either go back to training 4 to 6 p.m. (three days a week), or I go to therapy in the afternoons. In the evening, I like going to watch my sister and brother’s sports games.” She adds that her favorite workout music is “anything upbeat that keeps me moving.”

Noted for her exquisite lines and lively style on floor, Riley has opted to keep last year’s lyrical floor routine. “We love it and feel like people like to see something they know and recognize, not always switching and changing.”

Riley says that she is “really excited” for the summer season, and she’s looking forward to being back on the podium with her friends and teammates. “I hope that USAG (USA Gymnastics) can figure things out for our current generation, because we only have one shot at this,” she adds, noting the typically short competitive window for female gymnasts.

As Riley moves forward in the sport and continues to set new goals, she relies on the guidance of Maggie Haney, who has coached her since 2015. “Besides all the hair and makeup advice Maggie gives me,” says Riley with a giggle, “her best advice is how to prepare for competition by being mentally ready. She teaches me how to stay calm and what things to focus on during a meet.”

Right now, the world’s focus may be on Tokyo 2020, but Riley McCusker is taking it one day at a time.

FUN FACTS ABOUT RILEY

Favorite skills to perform:
“My bars dismount is really fun and cool!”

Favorite gymnasts:
“Kyla Ross and Nastia Liukin are my favorites! They both have beautiful lines in gymnastics, and their quality is always perfect! But most importantly, I look up to them because of the role models they are in the gymnastics community.”

Pets:
“Yes, I have two dogs and a fish named Mermaid.”

Favorite Color:
Turquoise

Favorite Thing About Gymnastics:
“The feeling after I make a good routine, the fun leotards, and my friends.”

Can’t wait for the next Olympic Games? We can’t either! Read more about Tokyo 2020 in our June issue, including thoughts on the new format, storylines to follow and rising stars to watch. Subscribe today!

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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