Rhythmic gymnastics is less well-known than artistic gymnastics, the popular Olympic sport that made athletes like Mary Lou Retton and Shawn Johnson famous. Staten Island native Rebecca Sereda has been a competitor in the sport since her Ukrainian-born parents enrolled her in a class as a child. At 17, she's a member of the US national team, but she won't be going to the Olympics this year — she hasn't competed long enough at the senior level of rhythmic gymnastics to qualify. Just one US rhythmic gymnast, Julie Zetlin, has qualified to go to London this summer, but Sereda hopes to compete in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. In between her rigorous six-day-a-week training schedule, she talked to BuzzFeed Shift about what it's like to be part of one of the only women-only Olympic sports.
What's the most misunderstood thing about your sport?
I feel like people think our sport is kind of a joke, that we just dance around with music. That's a very big misunderstanding, because our sport requires so much hard work. It incorporates ballet, gymnastics, and dance, so we have to put all those things together. We train for so many hours, but people think we're just dancing with ribbons on the carpet.
What's the difference between your sport and artistic gymnastics?
Artistic gymnastics requires more full-body strength, a lot of muscle. Our sport relies more on grace and elegance whereas their sport relies mostly on technique. Our sport focuses on things like how you catch your apparatus, and how you artistically perform, which is a big difference too.
How do you train?
I train six days a week, five to six hours a day. Training usually starts with ballet, and moves through strength training and practicing my routines.
I couldn't even count how many times I practice a routine before a competition, especially since we have four events [this year, the four official events are clubs, hoop, ribbon, and ball], so we have to focus on all four. It takes even more time to be consistent in not only one but all four of them.
What's the hardest of the four for you?
Probably the ribbon. For a senior athlete, it has to be six meters long. Controlling an apparatus that's a lot longer than you are is very difficult. It can get tangled, and if you don't have the right technique, it can even tie in a knot. Then you have to untie it, which is a points deduction and breaks up your routine.