By Christy Sandmaier

After capturing three medals at the inaugural Junior Worlds in Gyor, Hungary, the 2019 U.S. Junior All-around title, and placing second to teammate Morgan Hurd in her senior international debut at the 2020 American Cup in Milwaukee in March, Kayla DiCello is poised for future success on the world stage. She is quietly making her rise to the top with huge skills and a new-found confidence, displaying her greatest strengths – laser focus in competition, great perspective on her career to date and goals, and her ability to hit when it counts. 

In Milwaukee, she showed a strong mental game right off the bat. After missing almost everything in the one-touch for bars where she was up first, Kayla looked to Coach Kelli Hill for a quick chat and reassurance. And, after a few minutes to regroup, went out and not only nailed her bars set, but every event. We witnessed her confidence grow and her transition from junior athlete to senior contender in a matter of minutes, and definitely detected a certain spark in her eyes that grew brighter as the competition unfolded. 

Walking through the emotions of a dream year postponed hasn’t been easy, but has made her stronger she says. Her goal remains the Tokyo Olympics, just as it has always been. And with an extra year to prepare, Kayla continues to focus on achieving that goal one step, one day at a time, just as she always has.

Let’s get to know a little more about Kayla here! + Look for the full interview including Kayla’s thoughts on the age-eligibility change for Tokyo, what advice she received from Morgan Hurd at the American Cup, what she’s most looking forward to competing as a Florida Gator & more in the next issue of Inside Gymnastics magazine!

Many of your U.S. teammates and athletes around the world have described their initial shock and sadness learning the Tokyo Olympics were postponed. Can you take us through your process learning the news and how you adjusted to the new reality?

Everything that was happening with the virus and the impact it was and still is having on so many, was concerning and sad. The news on the Olympics being delayed was disappointing but certainly understandable. My approach before this was to take things one day at a time, which hasn’t changed, and I’ve been trying to not worry about the things that I cannot control. I am going to continue to focus on my upgrades and definitely remain positive and hopeful for an amazing 2021!

Describe your current workout schedule for us…

I have resumed my full training schedule and it is great to be in the gym! I practice twice a day from Monday to Friday, four hours in the morning and two and a half hours in the afternoon.  

What was it like being back in the gym after quarantine? Has it been easy to get your skills back?

It was definitely an unusual situation and so great to get back into the gym. The skills came back quicker than I anticipated! It was helpful to continue to do as much as I could until the restrictions in Maryland were lifted.  

Any new skills or fun things you’ve been trying since being back?

Since getting back into the gym, we have our own chalk bags now, so that has been fun carrying that around the gym, LOL! I have been working on adding several upgrades and new connections on pretty much all events. This really makes each day exciting and challenging as Coach Kelli and I work on new combinations and routines.

What did your success in 2019 do for your confidence level? 

The success was really good for both my confidence level and my approach to handling high-pressure situations. It was a good feeling to have the hard work and preparation for those meets paying off. As I look ahead, I am focused on holding myself to a high standard, pushing myself at practice and working to be as prepared as possible for what’s ahead.

Now that you’ve had a chance to reflect, what did you learn from your experiences at American Cup that helped you as an athlete? You had a rough one-touch and then came out and nailed every event in the meet…

My one-touch on bars was definitely not what I was expecting to happen, but it was a great learning experience to be able to have a rough warm-up and bounce back to hit the routine during competition. After the one-touch, Coach Kelli was great and helped me calm my nerves and reset myself. The biggest takeaway was learning to trust myself and take it one skill at a time. 

With the premiere of Athlete A, the #gymnastalliance movement and so much being written and reported about changing the culture of gymnastics, do you feel as an athlete your voice (or your collective voice as athletes), is being heard by your coaches and the national staff? 

I do feel my voice is being heard by my coaches and the national staff. They all are and have been very supportive in my journey. I do miss being at camp, seeing my teammates and practicing with them. We have been staying in touch with each other and I look forward to us all getting back to camp when the time is right.

Who do you look up to most in your sport?

My role models are Dominique Dawes, Courtney Kupets, and Elise Ray. It is pretty cool that they trained at Hill’s Gymnastics and made it to the Olympics. They have also become very successful with their careers after gymnastics from being an owner of a gym to head college coaches. 

What would you tell the Kayla who was just starting out in gymnastics about 2020? What advice would you have for her?

I would tell her to never give up on anything she wants to accomplish. Some days will be harder than others, but those hard, difficult days are the ones you learn the most from and help you get better. I would also tell her to laugh and have fun each and every day.  

Fun Facts!

Favorite competition: Junior Worlds

Favorite Skill: Double layout full out

Favorite workout music: 2000’s throwbacks

Favorite app: Snapchat

Favorite thing to do outside of gym: Spend time with my friends around a bonfire or at the beach (sometimes both). 

Photos by Lloyd Smith
Look for the full interview with Kayla DiCello in the next issue of Inside Gymnastics! Click Here!
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