The Caquatto Sisters
By Luan Peszek
The Caquatto sisters are making a name for themselves in the world of gymnastics. Both are in high school - Mackenzie is 17 and a senior while younger sister Bridgette is 15 and a sophomore. Both girls were born in March but each has her own zodiac sign - Mackenzie is an Aries since her birthday is March 26 and Bridgette is a Pisces because her birthday is March 14. Both are fierce competitors and train at Naperville Gymnastics in Illinois with their coaches Jiani Wu and Yuejiu Li. Both are members of the U.S. National Team - Mackenzie on the Senior National Team and Bridgette on the Junior National Team. In 2010, both will be eligible for the Senior National Team, and Mackenzie will head for the University of Florida, where she has signed a letter of intent.
In the world of elite gymnastics where there are roughly 200 or fewer women training at this level in the entire country, it's rare to have two elite gymnasts from the same family!
Both sisters had a great 2009. At the Visa Championships, Bridgette placed second in the all-around in the junior division and Mackenzie finished fifth in the all-around among the seniors. Bridgette competed in the Jr. Pan Am Championships and helped her team win the gold medal and also earned the silver medal on vault and finished fourth in the all-around. Mackenzie competed in the Toyota International Gymnastics competition in Japan, where she won the silver medal on bars. Both girls competed in the USA-Germany and USA-France exchange meets and helped the USA team win gold medals.
We caught up with both Mackenzie and Bridgette, their mom Lin, and their coach Jiani Wu to learn a little bit more about this dynamic duo of sisters.
USA Gymnastics: What is it like having two daughters on the U.S. National Team?
Lin Caquatto (mother): It's great and we all feel very blessed! They have put in so many hours and have sacrificed so much in their young lives to reach this point. It's awesome to see them reaching their goals and dreams. Competing for the USA National Team is the ultimate.
USA Gymnastics: How did they get involved in gymnastics and at what age?
Lin: Mackenzie and I started in a "Mom & Me" class at our first gym, Elite Sports Complex in Downers Grove, Ill., when she was 2-1/2. Bridgey was about 6 months old at that point. Once Bridgey turned 2, I signed her up for the same class. They both loved gymnastics from the beginning. I would ask if they wanted to try another sport -- but the answer was always "no."
USA Gymnastics: When did you know they had potential to be a National Team members?
Lin: Mackenzie was always interested in training as an elite from early on. Bridgey hadn't expressed an interest initially. When Jiani became their coach, she definitely saw potential in Bridgey, too. Mackenzie started putting in extra hours and then Bridgey got on board and things just started to fall in place. Their first year was quite successful with both of them competing at Classics and Mackenzie making it to the Visa Championships. Their goal was always to be on the National Team. After that first year my husband (Dave) and I, as well as their coaches, believed they had the desire, commitment and talent to be National Team members.
USA Gymnastics: Do the girls talk gymnastics at home or do they leave it in the gym?
Lin: At this point they pretty much leave it at the gym. I do ask them how their day was when they get home from practice. Usually it's just a one word response like "good" or maybe just a facial expression, like a "smile" or "not a smile." You can pretty much see by their body language what kind of day they've had. If they're learning a new skill they usually will share that with us.
USA Gymnastics: How does the coach manage the two sisters?
Lin: Jiani and Yuejiu are great with the girls. The girls are definitely two different personalities, and so are Jiani and Yuejiu. That makes for a nice combination all in all. The coaches at this level spend more time with our kids than we do. You really need to be able to trust them and their decisions -- and we do.
USA Gymnastics: Did you ever dream that you would have both daughters on the U.S. National Team? How did your family achieve such an accomplishment?
Lin: I have dreamed that dream and am so fortunate to have had it come true for both the girls. Having two kids in the same sport can sometimes be very difficult. You worry as a parent if both will be able to achieve their goals and dreams - in this case the same goals and dream. It's been a family commitment to reach this level and we wouldn't change it for a second. Well, maybe time for a few more family vacations would have been nice, but all in all, it's been a great ride so far. I can say I was much more nervous this last year at Visa Championships because the stakes were so high - what if one made it and the other didn't? I remember driving to the Visa Championships in Texas last year thinking, "I hope we're all this happy on our way home after competition next Sunday." Thank God we were!
USA Gymnastics: Have the girls ever been in the same competition competing against one another or have they always been in different age groups?
Lin: They started competing at the same level when Bridgey reached Level 10. Mackenzie had already been a Level 10 for two years I think. In most cases they were in different age groups because Bridgey is two years younger than Mackenzie. When they were in the same age group - they each had their events that they each won - but biological order always won in the all-around - and that worked out just fine!
USA Gymnastics: Will they both compete as seniors this year? Are you looking forward to this?
Lin: They will both compete as seniors this year. I'm looking forward to them both being on the same stage. They are very supportive of each other and have always been happy for each other's successes. I think they definitely push each other in the gym as well as competitions. Bridgey really looks up to her older sister and Mackenzie is Bridgey's biggest cheerleader. Being able to compete together is a plus for them.
USA Gymnastics: How do you balance gymnastics, school, family, and other activities?
Lin: Well, they both go to public school for about six hours a day, then gym for six hours, then home for dinner, shower and homework. That's pretty much it Monday through Friday. There's not much balancing to do during the week because that's all the hours there are. We do eat dinner together every night. On Sundays we go to church and then have breakfast together; then the rest of the day is usually low key, homework and maybe watch some football. Friday nights and Saturdays are usually open for the girls to be with their friends.
USA Gymnastics: What advice do you have for other parents with two kids in the sport?
Lin: My message to parents is to be patient along the way with your kids and your coaches. Kids don't develop the same physically or emotionally so treat them individually. There will be smooth spots and rough patches -- and as the parent you need to be the "Rock and Steady Eddy." They may not have the same goals and that's okay, too. Gymnastics is a journey. You don't create an athlete overnight. It's a process. Celebrate their achievements; let them know failures are a part of the process, too. Teach them to be supportive of each other and happy for each other's successes. And who knows where you might end up!
USA Gymnastics: I'm sure your house gets crazy sometimes when one daughter has a good day in gymnastics and the other does not. How do you manage this?
Lin: You're right. Many days they don't have good days at the same time. They know when to encourage each other and when to just be quiet and not say anything. On a bad day the other one will usually give a word of encouragement. We've always told them, "If you did your best today, that's all you can do. Tomorrow is a new day. Go back and try again."
USA Gymnastics: What is it like training and competing with your sister?
Mackenzie: It's been nice having a family member to train with. I know I can tell her anything and she understands me. As far as competition goes, we have never really been extremely competitive with each other. We always cheer each other on and have a great time out on the competition floor.
Bridgette: I love competing with my sister! She is always cheering for me and pumping me up. She is very positive in meets and handles them very well, which has really helped me since we've competed together. In training she is just like another gymnast on the team who is there helping me along the way.
USA Gymnastics: When did you start gymnastics and has your sister always been around your same level?
Mackenzie: I started gymnastics when I was 2-1/2 years old in a "Mom & Me" class at Elite Sports Complex. I did rhythmic and artistic gymnastics at the same time until I was 10. Bridgey started training with me when she was 14 and I was 16. It was my third year of Level 10 and her first year. Since then we have been training together.
Bridgette: I started gymnastics at age 2. Mackenzie had already been in the sport for two years when I started. Once we hit the optional level I was always a level or two below her, but once I hit Level 10 we trained and competed together. Now we travel like crazy with each other and have been elites for three years.
USA Gymnastics: I'm sure it is sometimes tough training with your sister - how do you handle this?
Mackenzie: Training with my sister can be tough at times. We do fight sometimes, like any other siblings. I try to focus on my work and what I need to get done during workout and not pay too much attention to what she's doing.
Bridgette: Of course it is! Not every day at the gym is perfect but at least we know what each other is going through so we can talk about things.
USA Gymnastics: Do your coaches treat you both the same?
Mackenzie: Our coaches do not treat us the same and we can't expect them to because we both have different personalities and training habits. Our coaches treat us as individuals and focus their coaching and corrections on each of our individual needs.
Bridgette: As far as pushing us when meet season comes, yes, but we definitely have different personalities so our coaches treat us differently in some situations.
USA Gymnastics: Are there other gymnasts in your group?
Mackenzie: There are three other gymnasts that train with us. One of them is 12 and is training to be elite, and the other two are Level 10s who have been training with us for three years.
Bridgette: We have three other close gymnasts that work out with us every day and they are basically part of our family, too!
USA Gymnastics: Does your sister help motivate you?
Mackenzie: Yes, my sister does motivate me. She is always there to help me out and give me encouraging words when I need some. She is always uplifting with a positive attitude.
Bridgette: When I'm not having the best day she always has something to say to help me get through it. She has a very outgoing personality so you can always count on her to cheer for me.
USA Gymnastics: Do you two talk about gymnastics at home?
Mackenzie: Bridgey and I try to leave our gymnastics talk and work at the gym. We do have a 20-30 minute car ride home to talk about our day. But when we get home we like to spend time with our family.
Bridgette: We usually share what happened that day at the gym but being at home is more of our time to relax so we don't talk about it that much.
USA Gymnastics: How do you deal with things when you have a good day and your sister has a bad day or the other way around?
Mackenzie: One of us having a good day and the other having a bad day is one of the most difficult things to deal with. We have learned to let the other person be and try to keep our happiness inside ourselves. Of course we are always happy for each other, but on those types of days, it's just good to stay away.
Bridgette: We have learned when the right time to say something is and when to cheer the other person up, letting them know that everything will be alright. But then again sometimes it's just better to stay quiet.
USA Gymnastics: Will you both compete senior at the 2010 Visa Championships? What will this be like for you?
Bridgette: Yes, we are both seniors this year and this will be our first Visa Championships to compete in the same age group. I'm looking forward to it because I know she will have encouraging words to say to me in my first senior competition since she has experienced it before.
USA Gymnastics: Do you attend the same school? How is that? What grade is each of you in?
Mackenzie: We both attend Naperville Central High School. I'm a senior and Bridgey is a sophomore. We both start school at 7:45 a.m. and end at 1:15 p.m. We have a shortened day so we can head to the gym for practice.
Bridgette: We both go to the same high school. Mackenzie drives me to school every day and to and from gym, too. As this year moves on I start to get a little sad knowing that she's not going to be there next year. But I get excited when I see her in the hallways and I love her friends!
USA Gymnastics: Are you looking forward to competing at the University of Florida?
Mackenzie: I am so excited to attend the University of Florida. I can't wait to be a part of the team and compete with them. It will be a new experience, training with new coaches and teammates. I love Rhonda, Adrian and Robert - the UF coaches!
USA Gymnastics: What do you plan to study?
Mackenzie: I plan to study elementary education. I have wanted to be a teacher since I was little and I'm still planning on following in that career path.
USA Gymnastics: Will you miss your sister and gym when you move to college?
Mackenzie: I will really miss training with Bridgey. She has always been there for me. It will be very different training without her because we've trained together for so long. I will miss my teammates a ton. I will definitely miss my coaches. I have been training with them for six years and they're part of my family.
USA Gymnastics: What will it be like when your sister goes to college to compete? Will you miss her?
Bridgette: Of course I will miss her. We have done so much together in the years we've been together. We have always been there for each other in the great and hard times. It will for sure be different and quiet in our house.
USA Gymnastics: Will you go and watch her meets in college on occasion?
Bridgette: I'm looking forward to watching Macko's meets in college! With a very busy schedule any chance our family gets to go and see her compete is going to be exciting.
USA Gymnastics: Do you want to compete in collegiate gymnastics, too?
Bridgette: Oh yeah! My goal for a long time has been to get a college scholarship.
USA Gymnastics: What are your goals in the sport?
Bridgette: To be part of a World team.
USA Gymnastics: How long have you coached the girls?
Coach Jiani Wu: I've been coaching them for five-and-a-half years.
USA Gymnastics: When did you first realize they had great potential?
Jiani: When I started to coach them, I knew they had lots of talent, both of them in different ways.
USA Gymnastics: What is each of their strengths?
Jiani: Mackenzie is one who loves to perform in front of the crowd and is very confident. Bridgey is the one with very quick power and long lines.
USA Gymnastics: What is the best part with training such high level gymnasts and sisters?
Jiani: The best part of these two sisters training together is that they always have each other to push through the tough days and support one another. They both are very competitive in a good way and push each other to the next level.
USA Gymnastics: What makes the Caquatto sisters so successful?
Jiani: They both work hard to follow their dreams and are very dedicated to the sport. They also have very supportive parents.
USA Gymnastics: Anything else you can tell me about coaching Mackenzie and Bridgette?
Jiani: We all have our ups and downs but my husband (Yuejiu Li) and I enjoy working with them.