“I’m really happy with the pace I’m at and the journey I’m going on right now.” – Nola Matthews

Rising Star Nola Matthews Readies for the Road Ahead

As we head into the upcoming U.S. Classic in July and U.S. Championships in August, Inside Gymnastics will be introducing you to some of the rising stars for Team USA! 

First up, Nola Matthews!

By Christy Sandmaier

Kicking off her senior debut with a first place finish on bars and fifth place finish in the All-Around (tied with Katelyn Jong) at the 2022 Winter Cup, Nola Matthews has certainly captured our attention with her performance quality (playful and graceful!), arsenal of skills (check out her bars below!), and steady approach to competition. 

Training under Cleo Washington at Airborne Gymnastics in Santa Clara, CA, Matthews also took her talents to the DTB Pokal Team Challenge in Stuttgart in March winning bronze on bars and gold with her team in a super successful international outing. It helped build up her confidence, she says, and also challenged her to strive even harder for her goals which definitely include competing in college, cleaning up some form here and there, and adding upgrades to her current routines. She’d also love to land a few more “big” international assignments along the way!

With Worlds coming up in October in Liverpool and just two and half years to the Olympic Games, it would be easy for any of the athletes to feel extra pressure to fast-track their routines and skills, but Matthews is keeping it all in perspective by focusing on competing with confidence and routines she can feel good about.

We sat down with Matthews in May where she reflected on the start of her first senior season, her goals and her journey ahead. She’s as calm, cool and collected during an interview as she is on the competition floor, and offered us a glimpse into her personality and life outside of the gym as well. And with her rising consistency, she’s definitely one to watch as the new Olympic “quad” is in full swing. 

Let’s meet her now!

Tell us how you got started in gymnastics! 

I started in “Mommy and Me” classes when I was 2 or 3 years-old and then I went to a local gym for three or four years. I moved to my current gym after Level 4 and I’ve been here for six years now! 

When did you know the Elite route was the path you wanted to take? 

When I was like 11 or 12 that was when I really wanted to try junior and then eventually senior Elite. 

Did you skip any levels along the way? 

I skipped Level 6 and Level 8. So, I went 5 and 7 in the same season and then the next season I did Level 9, so it was a lot in just a little bit of time!

Tell us about your day-to-day schedule. What’s a typical day like for you?

I wake up at 7:30ish and head to gym. Then I practice for around five and half hours every day. I have two double days a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays and I go Monday through Friday. Then I come and do school and relax for a little bit. 

So a busy day, but you’re used to it…

It’s a lot but I’m really grateful for the weekend off. It gives me a lot of time to recover and relax! 

Tell me about your coaches and what you think they bring to your gymnastics to help make you better.

My three main coaches are Cleo (Washington), Melissa (Metcalf), and then the owner of the gym is Mel (Ruggiero). They’re just all super supportive of me and this whole process. I can always come to them and talk to them, but they’re just super supportive. 

So you feel like you have a good dynamic and you can tell them how you’re feeling every day? 

Yes! 

Is that something you’ve felt from the start at Airborne?

Yeah! Airborne has always felt a lot like home. Ever since I got here it’s just been such a great environment for me. 

Are you training in a group with other Elites or are you solo right now? 

I train with about five or six people but only one of them is currently trying to do Elite. Her name is Tyler (Turner) and she’s actually going to a Devo camp right now. So it’s nice to have one Elite because last season I was all by myself!

You turned senior this year and competed at Winter Cup. How would you score your  performance at that competition?

Going into Winter Cup, I kind of just wanted to go out there and do my best. I wasn’t really focused on where I would end up in placement, but my main goal was to qualify for Championships there. I just wanted to hit four for four, which has been a big goal of mine. 

Was Germany your first international assignment? 

I’ve been to France twice before, but not competing for the U.S. It was just a fun little trip with my Airborne team. This was my first international experience competing with the U.S. 

Tell me about that! Getting used to the time change, the arena, the food. What was the experience like?

I have a really hard time sleeping on planes so it took a bit of time to get adjusted to the time zone, but it was fun. All the girls there were super sweet and supportive so it was really fun training with them and getting to know them a lot more. The training was good. It was usually two practices a day leading up to the meet and then when I had to compete, I had to tell myself ‘Take it one thing at a time and don’t overthink’ because sometimes when I get too into my own head that just makes things worse. So I really just tried to keep a nice, light and fun attitude and environment to keep me mellow when I went. It was such a great experience getting to compete! 

Did you hit the way you wanted to? Or, were there things you wished you had done better? 

I’m happy that I hit my routines and I was so excited that I made events finals because that was a huge goal of mine. I’m glad I connected most of my connections—that was good! I did want to clean up some form things when I got home, like hitting handstands and keeping my legs and feet tight. But, I was really happy that I hit both times!

Are there any fun behind-the scenes stories you’d like to share? 

All the dinners and breakfasts we had were fun, we’d just talk about whatever. I was rooming with Levi (Jung-Ruivivar) and she’s so kind and supportive. We are really good at motivating each other, which is nice. Then on the last night we snuck downstairs and bought a bunch of candy and had a bit of a party which was a lot of fun! They’re all just super sweet. 

Jumping back, tell me about your very first national team camp experience and how you felt… 

It was a bit scary because there were so many incredibly talented people there, but once I got there it was a lot of fun. It was pretty chill, too. You just gotta do what you had to do… and it was nice to see my friends there too, and go with people where it was their first national team camp because we could relate with a lot of stuff as well. But it was fun; a little nerve-wracking but after a while it got easier. 

Is camp still monthly and is the expectation that you’re there every time? 

It’s pretty monthly, sometimes they skip a month or two. But you’re supposed to be there unless you’re injured or sick. 

When you’re there, do you feel support from the national team staff? Medically, nutritionally – all of those things? 

The national staff is super nice, supportive and helpful. And the medical staff are just great! They’re so helpful! 

Because this is a shorter “quad” leading to the 2024 Olympics, does it feel like you have less time to build team chemistry? Do you feel like that’s coming together for you after competing internationally this year? 

Yes, definitely! I got to know them a bit as a junior too, so that’s nice having people going to [the senior ranks] with me. But it’s been great getting to know them and we can always talk to each other about whatever, which is nice! 

Did your mindset or goals change in any way because of the shift?

Not really. I was a little bummed my junior season got cut short in 2020 because I really wanted to use that season. But it’s okay, I think it all worked out fine. It did feel a little rushed going into Winter Cup, but honestly right now I’m really happy with the pace I’m at and the journey I’m going on right now. It feels good. 

Gearing up for Classics and Championships, what are your goals skills-wise, placement wise?

I’m working a couple of upgrades on every event, so going into these meets I want to add them into my routine to build up my D-score a bit. I just want to go out there and compete with confidence and hopefully hit my routines at every meet and feel good about what I’m competing. 

Is your confidence level higher since you’ve had a pretty strong start to 2022? 

I guess (laughs). A bit. I feel less pressure; just going out and doing my best and not worrying about other people. 

What about college gymnastics?

I definitely want to do college gymnastics! It just seems so fun and like such a happy environment. I want to have a good time with a team—it just looks so fun! 

Do you have a certain team or a dream school you’re looking at? 

I’m very unsure of where I want to go right now (laughs). 

Who are some athletes that you’ve looked up to or who motivate you? 

Suni (Lee) just seems so motivated and driven, and such a great person, too! So she’s definitely someone I look up to. Even Konnor (McClain), she’s so grounded, kind, and hard working. She’s great! 

Do you have anything coming up before Classics? 

I have a camp in June, which is just a working camp. And then in July I have a selection camp for an  international assignment. I’m not quite sure which one because they’ve added a lot!

Do you feel like the communication between the national team staff and the athletes is strong and that you’re getting the information you need? 

Yeah! They’re all super supportive and you can talk to them, ask them if they have suggestions or corrections. They’re great! 

Do you have anything you’re working on right now that you’d love to put into your routines? 

I’m working inbars right now, which will hopefully turn into an inbar full. Then adding some connections on beam and maybe a whip+triple on floor! 

What’s your favorite event? 

Probably bars. On a good day, you know? (Laughs) But every event is good on a good day. 

Is there one that’s maybe a bit more challenging for you? 

Vault has always been a bit harder for me. I love to compete and perform floor. Beam is always a bit… meh. 

Some people like to label gymnasts as either powerful or graceful. Would you consider yourself either one of those? 

Kind of in the middle. I wouldn’t say I’m on either side. 

What’s your long-term goal right now? 

I definitely want to keep working toward more international assignments and bigger meets in the future. But right now, adding upgrades and building confidence for those upcoming meets. 

More With Nola Matthews!

What’s in your gym bag right now? 

I have a bunch of random little snacks in there. All my hair stuff. I use the same hair ties and scrunchie every day! I have two brushes for some reason and a lacrosse ball for rolling out. Pretty basic stuff! 

What’s your favorite social media platform? 

Probably Tik Tok. 

If you had to give up one social media platform what would it be? 

Probably Snapchat. I use it but not as much as everybody else. 

Favorite skill? 

I really like Maloney halves–they’re so fun! 

How long did it take you to learn it?

It took me a long time to learn a Maloney, I don’t know why. Then the Maloney half came pretty easy. It went down for a little bit, but now it’s pretty consistent. 

Favorite thing to do outside of the gym? 

I love to listen to music and just relax. I do Normatec a lot. And I like painting in my free time. 

Who’s on your playlist? 

I love Harry Styles! (laughs) Mostly just Harry Styles. 

Are you a Starbucks fan? 

Yeah, but I don’t drink coffee! I mostly get refreshers and things like that. 

What do you love most about gymnastics? 

I love the feeling of hitting a good routine and being proud of the routine you just did. It’s just a good feeling to be like, ‘That was pretty good!’

Photos by Lloyd Smith for Inside Gymnastics

For more:

U.S. Women Successful in Stuttgart

McClain Claims Winter Cup

2022 Winter Cup Photo Gallery

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