Nastia Liukin Cup Series Feature Stories

Mackenzie Brannan
Reagan Campbell
Rachel Daum
Sydney Doggette
Samantha Partyka
Drew Watson

Emily Gaskins
Ashleigh Gnat
Charity Jones
Alex McMurtry
Mariah Peterson
Lexy Ramler

Miranda Cabada
Bridget Dean
Sydney Johnson-Scharpf
Lindsey Lemke
Ashton Locklear
Jenna Swartzentruber

Alicia Boren
Felicia Hano
Alexis Mattern
Hannah Miller
Kendal Moss
Emily Schild

Bailey Ferrer
Alma Kuc
Kari Lee
Kaytianna McMillan
Lauren Ramirez
Aja Sims

Brianna Brown
Kiera Brown
Kyana George
Amanda Wellick

Click on the athlete's name for her bio

Emily Gaskins

By Lauren Ely

Emily Gaskins remembers how hard it was to say goodbye to her dad, two sisters and toy poodle, Caesar.

Gaskins, 14, moved with her mom from Coral Springs, Fla., to Cincinnati, Ohio, to train at Cincinnati Gymnastics Academy with Mary Lee Tracy. Gaskins says the move was tough but worth it. She still sees her family about once every month, but she still misses her dog.

"It was the hardest thing to leave him," Gaskins said. "He was my best friend. He slept with me every night. He always made me feel better when I was sad."

However, Gaskins says making sacrifices is just a part of her sport when she confesses she happily gave up going to public school. She wants to be an elite gymnast and join the national team to compete at the Olympics, so homeschooling was an understood choice.

"It takes a lot of dedication," Gaskins said. "You have to give 110 percent every single day. You have to be willing to make the sacrifices to go where you want to go."

Although she dreams big, Gaskins understands she needs a backup plan. If joining the national team doesn't work out, Gaskins wants to follow in her two older sisters' footsteps and attend the University of Florida to compete on its gymnastics team. While most teenagers don't even have a plan, let alone a backup plan, Gaskins exudes the attitude of someone much older as she talks about her desire to study anthropology and learn about how the world has changed.

The 2013 Nastia Liukin Cup will be Gaskins first time competing in front of cameras, and she is thrilled to be able to experience it.

"I was so proud of myself [qualifying for NLC]," Gaskins said. "I've never competed with cameras or even in a big place, so I think it will be a good experience for me. It will be new and good."

Ashleigh Gnat

By Erica Rath

Ashleigh Gnat, 17, is a high school senior from Lake Mary, Fla., who has been involved in gymnastics since 1997. Her older sister, Jeana, and both of her parents competed in gymnastics. In fact, her parents opened up their own gym, ACE Gymnastics, near their home in Florida, and Ashleigh has grown up around some of the world's best athletes.

"I was always in the gym with my sister and my parents. It just came easy to me," Ashleigh said.

As a senior in high school, Ashleigh's next step is competing at a collegiate level. Her sister, Jeana, competed for the University of Alabama from 2001-2004. Ashleigh wanted to stay in the SEC, arguably the most dominating gymnastics conference in the country, and compete with the best.

On National Signing Day, Gnat signed her letter of intent to compete at Louisiana State University, which happens to be her father, Ray's alma matter.

Floor and vault are the favorite events for Ashleigh to compete in because it allows her to show power and confidence.

Ashleigh competed in last years' Nastia Liukin Cup after finishing first in the Presidential Classic. In 2012, she also placed first at the National Gymnastics Challenge and earned the all-around title at the State Championships.

Charity Jones

By Lauren Ely

This year when Charity Jones makes her way to the DCU Center in Worcester, Mass., she'll have one goal in mind – to walk away as the first-ever consecutive, two-time champion of the Nastia Liukin Cup.

Jones, 17, from Miami, Okla., began gymnastics when she was just 3 years old after watching her older sister Paige in gymnastics classes. She hails from Dynamo Gymnastics in Oklahoma City and is in her last year competing as a Level 10 gymnast.

"I definitely want to win the Nastia Cup again," Jones said. "I think that would be pretty cool to be the first to win it back-to-back, and I would like to win Nationals again because it's my last year. To go out with winning it three years in a row would be cool."

Jones, often called "Biscuits" by her coach and teammates because she ate biscuits and gravy before working out one day, made the move to Dynamo in 2011 to train under coach Dennis Harrison. Since the shift, she has won the Women's Junior Olympic Level 10 National Championships for the past two years, as well as the Nastia Liukin Cup in 2012.

The national champion will continue her gymnastics career at the University of Oklahoma next year where she hopes to compete as an all-arounder. She spends nearly seven hours each weekday training and four-and-a-half hours on weekends.

"You have to be strong minded," Jones said. "It takes an emotional toll and physical toll on your body. Even when you're tired and having bad day, you have to be strong and tell yourself you can do it and get through it. You've done it so many times, so you know you can do it."

Before an event, Jones can be found either going over her routine with Harrison or standing alone to focus and visualize her performance. Her favorite events are beam and floor. She says she has always preferred beam and enjoys floor because it's fun to show off her dance moves.

"You can be powerful and not hold anything back," Jones said.

Jones will have to bring that power to the DCU on March 1 when she hopes to defend her title.

Alex McMurtry

By Lauren Ely

Athletes often have superstitions and rituals they have to perform before a competition. If Alex McMurtry doesn't have chocolate chip muffins before a meet, there's a good chance she won't want to compete.

McMurtry, 15, trains at Richmond Olympiad Gymnastics in Richmond, Va. The Midlothian, Va., native says she started the superstition at Level 7 after the manager at her gym made her chocolate chip muffins when she was sick. McMurtry performed really well even though she wasn't feeling well, and the routine of eating muffins before every meet was born.

"I'm really scared to not have them, so we always find them somewhere," McMurtry said.

McMurtry had always aspired to advance to elite and join the national team, but after going to a few elite and national team camps, she decide to focus on Level 10 and collegiate competition. She trained with almost all the girls on the 2012 Olympic team and competed against Gabby Douglas for five years in Virginia.

"I was looking back at pictures. In some, Gabby Douglas would be on the first place podium and some where I would be," McMurtry said. "It was interesting to see the different paths we had taken. Everyone would tell me, 'That could've been you.' That was the hardest part, but I'm happy with my decision because I really wanted to stay in public high school, stay with my family and take the Level 10 path."

With her 16th birthday quickly approaching, McMurtry hopes she'll have time to hang out with her friends and drive the green Land Rover she and her sister Addie share. She also enjoys wakeboarding and water skiing at her family's lake house.

This will be McMurtry's third trip to the Nastia Liukin cup. Last year she finished tied for second, but as long as she eats her chocolate chip muffins before the competition, there's a chance she'll land on top.

Mariah Peterson

By Erica Rath

Mariah Peterson is an eight grader from South Jordan, Utah. She is currently 14 years old and has been competing in gymnastics for the past 10 years. As a young child, Mariah was flipping and doing back handsprings when her parents decided to put her in the gym.

Mariah currently trains at USA Gymnastics World with Charles Musgray, who has been coaching for 31 years and competed as a gymnast himself.

Musgray is proud of Mariah's hard work. She is described as the chatty one and a social butterfly within the gym, but not in a way that affects her training.

Currently, Mariah is the top gymnast in the state of Utah and the only gymnast from the state to qualify for the Nastia Liukin Cup. Mariah says this as her biggest accomplishment in her career. Utah is rebuilding its gymnastics scene and competitors like Mariah only help to build the sport.

Last year, Mariah made it to J.O. Nationals and placed 15th in the all-around. She enjoys competing on beam because of the courage and focus it takes to get up on the four inch wide apparatus.

Mariah is one of six children and goes to a public school. She credits her classmates for being so supportive and understanding of her schedule.

Lexy Ramler

By Lauren Ely

For Lexy Ramler, competing at the Nastia Liukin Cup is the highlight of her career so far.

"I'm a little nervous, but I'm also excited for a new environment," Ramler said. "I want to see what a difference it will make, and hopefully, I'll do well."

Ramler, 14, resides in St. Michael, Minn., and trains at KidSport. She began gymnastics when she was just 5-years-old, when her mom decided to enroll her in classes because she climbed over everything.

Bars and beam are her favorite events to compete and for a simple reason: She's good at them.

"It's fun exploring new things," Ramler said.

Determination and focus are what Ramler says it takes to be a gymnast, and she exemplifies this is in her daily life. She wakes up at 5:30 a.m. every morning to train before school and after school, she goes back to the gym.

Shawn Johnson and Liukin are two gymnasts Ramler looks up to. She hopes to one day compete on the national team, just as they did, but right now, she says she's focused on winning the Nastia Liukin Cup.

Outside of gymnastics, Ramler enjoys just relaxing and hanging out with her family.

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