The U.S. National Team celebrates the holidays
posted on 12/19/2008
(L-R) Ivana Hong, Chelsea Davis, Samantha Peszek

With the holiday season upon us, USA Gymnastics asked the senior national team members about their holiday traditions. Read how some of the USA’s top gymnasts are spending their holidays in 2008! USA Gymnastics wishes you the very best this holiday season! Several members of the national team sent in photos from their past holidays. You can find them to the right and below.

What are your plans for the holidays?

Nicole Barrilleaux (AG): No travels this year.

Raj Bhavsar (M): I’ve been everywhere in the last four months and now it’s time to enjoy the comfort of home!

Erin Blanchard (TT): I am going to be at my parents’ house for the holidays.

Mackenzie Caquatto (W): We stay home at Christmas and enjoy some downtime. We always go to my aunt’s house for Christmas dinner.

Chelsea Davis (W): We are going home to Austin for the holidays. My brother will be in town and we will do the whole extended family thing in San Marcos and Wimberly.

Steven Gluckstein (TT): I'll be traveling to Detroit, Mich., to see my whole family. My grandfather is one of eleven kids.

Sean Golden (M): I am going back home to New Jersey for the holidays. I don't get to go home very often, but I have not missed a Christmas or New Year’s with my family since I moved away four years ago.

Nathan Harr (TT): I am going to Florida with my girlfriend during the week before Christmas. It’s nice to get away after college exams.

Alaina Hebert (TT): I get to go home to Lafayette, La., for Christmas!

Ivana Hong (W): I am going to California with my family for the first time since we moved to Missouri in 2004. This is the first Christmas we will spend together in California with my dad and relatives.

Jonathan Horton (M): I’m just going home to Houston.

Shawn Johnson (W): I am going to Colorado for the holidays.

Susannah Johnson (TT): I stay home and my siblings come to visit. I entertain my sisters’ son and daughter during the holidays.

Corrie Lothrop (W): I am going to Massachusetts for Christmas. I go there every year because that's where I used to live.

Kalon Ludvigson (TT): I will be going home for three days at Christmas. While I am there, I have to get my wisdom teeth pulled, which is something I've been putting off for a long time!

Tim McNeill (M): I am going back home to Falls Church, Va., for a week during Christmas break.

Chellsie Memmel (W): My sister and I are going to Mexico right after New Year’s!

Michelle Milstein (R): Nope! I am stuck at home for a white and cold holiday season...

Samantha Peszek (W): We are staying at home because we like to have Christmas at our house.

Sofya Roytburg (R): I recently moved to Chicago for group. But I will still be going back to New York for the holidays!

Katherine Scarnechia (R): No, I will be staying home. How can a National Team member leave the gym for the holidays and not practice?

Leanne Seitzinger (TT): I am just staying around here (Virginia). I have family coming up from Florida the day after Christmas, so I am excited for that.

Bridget Sloan (W): My mom’s side of the family is really big, and we all go to my aunt’s house in Illinois for Christmas. We’ve been doing that for a long time. We used to rent out a center, but now we go to her house because it’s pretty big. I have about 25 first cousins, so there are about 40 people who get together. And some extras usually come by.

Randy Stageberg (W): I am not going anywhere for the holidays. I am just staying at home and enjoying it with my family.

Kevin Tan (M): I will be sticking around State College, Pa., for the most part. After living out of a suitcase for four months, it's nice to be in one place for a period of time.

Julie Zetlin (R): I'm going to Colorado for my annual ski vacation with my family. This year we'll be in Beaver Creek.

Do you have any family traditions?

Nicole Barrilleaux (AG): We usually go to my grandpa's house for presents and Christmas dinner with about 30 people, but he recently passed away so the festivities have been moved to my house. It's going to be the start of a new and exciting tradition.

Raj Bhavsar (M): My parents host a family party on Christmas Eve and we all play the white elephant gift game. It’s really fun and gets out of control very quickly.

Erin Blanchard (TT): My dad plays his guitar for everyone every Christmas.

Mackenzie Caquatto (W): Baking cookies, of course!! We also always go to church on Christmas Eve and then put out the "reindeer food." My Nunna started this tradition one year when we were little and we have always kept it up. We mix oatmeal with glitter and then we sprinkle it on the snow near the house so the reindeer can find their way and have something to eat!! On Christmas morning, we always start by reading the Christmas story then we head to the tree, eat "Bubble Bread" for breakfast and enjoy family time.

Chelsea Davis (W): Spinning under the Zilker Christmas Tree in Austin on Christmas Eve, cutting Christmas trees at my grandparents or my uncle’s "Choose n Cut" tree farm, and my Grandad (now my cousins or brother) dressing up as Santa for the "littles" on Christmas Day.

Steven Gluckstein (TT): We have our Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve and then open our presents that night. We also rent a hall for the big family Christmas party where almost 120 members of my family attend.

Sean Golden (M): We don't really have any family traditions, but on Christmas Eve, we always go over to my friend’s house.

Nathan Harr (TT): Not really. We always get together on Christmas Day.

Alaina Hebert (TT): Every year on Christmas Eve, we go to my grandmother’s house (my dad's side) and she makes a huge seafood gumbo. Then we all go to church.

Ivana Hong (W): We take family pictures every year.

Jonathan Horton (M): My whole family lives within about 10 miles of each other. I don’t have one family member outside of Houston. We all get together and have a pretty big Christmas gathering. We eat a lot and open presents one at a time to see what we got. It’s usually pretty fun, but nothing crazy.

Shawn Johnson (W): Just spending time with my family, cooking a nice Christmas dinner and sitting around the fireplace while exchanging gifts and telling stories.

Corrie Lothrop (W): I always decorate the tree with my family. We put on our Christmas hats, have eggnog and listen to Christmas music while we decorate the tree.

Chellsie Memmel (W): Not really. We have very low-key holidays since we’re always on the go. It’s nice just to spend a day at home together.

Michelle Milstein (R): My family has no real traditions except lighting candles for each night of Hanukkah.

Samantha Peszek (W): We do a lot of the typical stuff like put up the tree and a lot of decorations. We go to my grandma’s on Christmas Eve and we get to open one present, which is usually an outfit my mom wants us to wear the next day.

Sofya Roytburg (R): My family doesn’t celebrate Christmas so we put the gifts under a New Year’s tree. We always watch the television as we count down to the New Year and then we open presents. I'm usually the one who hands them out.

Katherine Scarnechia (R): My family's Christmas traditions are watching White Christmas and opening presents from my siblings on Christmas Eve.

Leanne Seitzinger (TT): I don't really have any family traditions, but the past couple of years, my grandparents have come down on Christmas Eve and stayed the night. Usually, my whole family is at my house for Christmas morning to open gifts.

Bridget Sloan (W): When my sister and I were younger, we used to bake a cake for Jesus every year. When I was little, we would go all out and decorate it, but we don’t go as crazy now. But we usually do bake a cake.

Randy Stageberg (W): Every Christmas, the whole side of my mom’s family gets together, exchanges presents and has a Christmas dinner at my grandparents’ house. We also go to our neighbors’ house every Christmas Eve for a Christmas party.

Kevin Tan (M): At home, we always used to open presents on Christmas Eve because we could never wait. At night, we would have a family turkey dinner to end the night.

Shayla Worley (W): Our tradition is to open all of our presents on Christmas Eve night with my whole family. Then on Christmas morning, Santa comes with one last gift.

Julie Zetlin (R): Usually our family tradition is going skiing during Christmastime.

What is your favorite childhood memory from the holidays?

Nicole Barrilleaux (AG): My favorite memory is being able to see all of my aunts, uncles and cousins who I don't get to see very often.

Raj Bhavsar (M): When I was young, I would always build fortresses with the presents around the Christmas tree and then hide behind them.


Erin Blanchard (TT): My favorite childhood memory is my brother coming to wake me up on Christmas morning and going look at our presents under the tree.

Mackenzie Caquatto (W): Decorating the Christmas tree!! We always do this as a family. We play Christmas music or watch a good Christmas movie while we're decorating. Also baking cookies with my mom.

Steven Gluckstein (TT): My favorite memory is waking up on Christmas morning and having so much snow we couldn't leave the house!

Nathan Harr (TT): When I was little, I stayed up all night to see Santa Claus. Even though I didn’t see him, I still told everyone I did and it got to the point where I kind of believed myself.

Alaina Hebert (TT): I just remember being so excited on Christmas Day that my brother and I would run and wake up our parents so early. We'd open gifts and then all of our family would come over to eat Christmas lunch.

Ivana Hong (W): My favorite memory is writing and receiving a letter from Santa, and watching the news about Santa flying with his reindeer over Asia on his way to our house.

Jonathan Horton (M): My favorite memory is my dad coming into my bedroom with this bright light on the gigantic video camera he had back in the day. He would videotape us waking up and freaking out because it was Christmas morning. It was always 5 or 6 in the morning and my sister and I were going crazy. He doesn’t do it anymore, but I tell him he should.

Shawn Johnson (W): When I would wake up and drag my parents out of bed just to see what Santa brought me. And one year when my dad took me outside on Christmas morning to show me Santa's reindeer tracks on our rooftop!!

Susannah Johnson (TT): I was 8 years old and I walked downstairs on Christmas morning to see a teepee set up in our living room. I was ecstatic.

Corrie Lothrop (W): My favorite childhood memory from the holidays is when I got my first TV for my room. I felt like such a big kid.

Kalon Ludvigson (TT): It’s definitely spending time with my brother and sisters, snowmobiling and sledding when we were little.

Tim McNeill (M): My younger brother, Robbie, always used to wake me up about four hours earlier than I would like to open presents. He knew that was the ONLY day of the year he could wake me up. Surprisingly, somehow all those years of waking up way too early is a really good memory for me.

Samantha Peszek (W): One year when I was really little, we were in Chicago with my dad’s family and we went to Midnight Mass, which I thought was really cool because I had never stayed up that late. Then we opened all our presents at 1 a.m. when we got back from church.

Sofya Roytburg (R): Getting gifts along with the rest of my family and taking pictures with them. The gifts that we get each other can be very ridiculous. My brother once got my sister a toilet seat cover and an apron. It was so funny!

Katherine Scarnechia (R): Waking up on Christmas morning and seeing a new dollhouse with all the furnishings that my parents made.

Leanne Seitzinger (TT): I can't think of one memory that sticks out in my head. I really just enjoy spending time with my family and friends during the holidays.

Randy Stageberg (W): My favorite memory is when my parents would hide one present somewhere in the house on Christmas Eve, and if we found it, we could open it that night.

Kevin Tan (M): Spending time with my family and relaxing while enjoying the holiday spirit.

Shayla Worley (W): One year when I was about six years old, we were putting up the tree and I kept adding ornaments in the same spot. Then suddenly the entire eight-foot tree tipped over on top of me!

Julie Zetlin (R): Just being with my family and skiing. We have been doing this every year since I've been about 6 years old.

What is your favorite holiday food?

Nicole Barrilleaux (AG): My favorite holiday food is my mom's squash bisque.

Raj Bhavsar (M): Snickerdoodles

Erin Blanchard (TT): My favorite holiday food is my mom's pecan pie.

Mackenzie Caquatto (W): Anything dessert!! And chicken casserole, which is chicken in a yummy sauce with stuffing on top.

Chelsea Davis (W): My grandmother’s broccoli and rice casserole.

Steven Gluckstein (TT): My favorite holiday food is sugar cookies! You can't just eat one, though!

Sean Golden (M): I think my favorite holiday food is ham.

Nathan Harr (TT): My mom makes these amazing caramel and coconut cookie bars that are absolutely delicious.

Alaina Hebert (TT): That’s a tough one! My mom is a really good cook so I usually eat everything she makes. She makes good rice dressing, but I think my favorite is all the desserts!

Ivana Hong (W): None. There is no particular food for Christmas in our culture.

Jonathan Horton (M): I don’t think I have one. I just like food in general.

Shawn Johnson (W): Homemade lemon drop cookies and turkey.

Susannah Johnson (TT): Food? Not so much...bring on the eggnog!

Corrie Lothrop (W): My favorite holiday food is spinach-and-cheese dip rolled and baked in mini crescent rolls. They are so good!

Tim McNeill (M): It’s this cookie my mom makes that nobody else likes. It has chocolate chips, coconut, walnuts, cherries and peppermint.

Chellsie Memmel (W): Our family doesn't really do special food for holidays except for Thanksgiving when we make homemade pizzas.

Michelle Milstein (R): My favorite holiday food is the apple pie my grandma and I bake every year.

Samantha Peszek (W): My mom always makes this breakfast casserole with eggs, sausage and cheese.

Sofya Roytburg (R): I like all food! Especially if my mom makes it!

Katherine Scarnechia (R): Apple pie!!!

Leanne Seitzinger (TT): My favorite holiday food...hmmm, I would have to say my grandmother's smashed potatoes. They are amazing!

Bridget Sloan (W): I don’t think I have one. I just love all food. When I’m over at my aunt’s house, I just know the food is going to be really good.

Randy Stageberg (W): My favorite holiday food would have to be sweet potato pie.

Kevin Tan (M): Turkey, yams, mashed potatoes. You name it!

Shayla Worley (W): My favorite holiday food is my grandma's homemade pound cake. It's like a little piece of heaven in your mouth.

Julie Zetlin (R): Turkey.

For whom are you buying presents?

Nicole Barrilleaux (AG): I'm buying presents for my closest family members and friends.

Erin Blanchard (TT): I am buying presents for my brothers, my parents, my godchild, and my niece and nephew.

Mackenzie Caquatto (W): My family and closest friends. We also participate in the "Angel Tree" at our church where we buy gifts for children whose parents are in prison.

Chelsea Davis (W): My mom, my dad and my brother, John. Also Kim, Chris, Koda, Ryder and my teammates.

Steven Gluckstein (TT): I'm buying presents for all my friends and family! Tis the giving season!

Sean Golden (M): I think this year above any other will be the year most people will remember what Christmas is all about. They will be grateful for the things that are priceless and dearest to us, like family, and not focus so much on the material things.

Nathan Harr (TT): Some of my friends, my family, and my girlfriend, Brandi.

Alaina Hebert (TT): I always get something for my brother, my mom and my best friends!! My mom always gets my dad’s presents.

Ivana Hong (W): My family, friends and my special "Secret Santa."

Jonathan Horton (M): I buy presents for my fiancée, my mom, my dad, my sister, my sister’s husband and my fiancée’s parents and sister.

Shawn Johnson (W): My mom and dad, my cousin and my grandma. Also a lot of little presents for my friends and teammates.

Susannah Johnson (TT): My dad, mom, brother/sister-in-law, sister/brother-in-law, niece, nephew and my best friends.

Corrie Lothrop (W): I am buying presents for my family, my teammates and my closest friends.

Kalon Ludvigson (TT): I am buying a bunch of gifts for the French National Team and its coach, and of course, for my coach because without his help I wouldn't be where I am today. I’m definitely buying gifts for my family!

Tim McNeill (M): My mom (Laura), dad (Dave), brother (Robbie), girlfriend (Carla), aunts (Debbie and Audrey), uncles (Husic and Ron) and my grandma.

Chellsie Memmel (W): My family and some close friends.

Michelle Milstein (R): I am buying presents for everyone who is special to me, including my friends, family and coaches.

Samantha Peszek (W): My immediate family and my best friends.

Sofya Roytburg (R): I'm buying presents for my family and friends.

Katherine Scarnechia (R): Everyone I know who is getting me one.

I'm just buying for my family and friends.

Leanne Seitzinger (TT):

Bridget Sloan (W): I usually buy gifts for my whole family. All of my cousins, up to about 17 years old, do a cousin exchange. We pick a name out of a hat and that’s the cousin you buy a gift for.

Randy Stageberg (W): I am buying gifts for my brothers and my parents.

Kevin Tan (M): Family and close friends.

Shayla Worley (W): I buy presents for my immediate family, coaches, teammates and closest friends.

Julie Zetlin (R): I’m buying presents for my best friends and family.

What is on your gift wish list?

Nicole Barrilleaux (AG): The things at the top of my wish list this year are to do well on my finals and to receive some new clothes.

Raj Bhavsar (M): A 50-inch plasma TV. More than likely, I will be buying it for myself.

Erin Blanchard (W): Gift lists are overrated. I like gifts that come from the heart and are thoughtful.

Mackenzie Caquatto (W): A Mac laptop. I think it would be great when I travel to be able to talk to and see my family and friends.

Chelsea Davis (W): An iPhone.

Steven Gluckstein (TT): My gift wish list consists of a healthy family and new skydiving gear!

Sean Golden (M): This may sound corny or cliché, but all I want for Christmas is to go back home.

Nathan Harr (TT): I just bought a house, so house stuff.

Alaina Hebert (TT): I'm just really excited to go home for Christmas, so I thank my parents for making that possible!

Ivana Hong (W): A new, lighter laptop and a jacket.

Jonathan Horton (M): This may sound spoiled, but I already have everything that I could ever need. I just bought myself a car, so I told my mom and my fiancée not to buy me anything. I told them just to wing it because I don’t really need anything. They got me stuff, but it’ll be more exciting than ever because I have no idea what I’m getting.

Shawn Johnson (W): Anything with a peace sign and the Twilight series of books.

Susannah Johnson (TT): I almost have enough gear to start rock climbing solo. I just need a harness and a good rope.

Corrie Lothrop (W): My gift wish list is short, but I really want to get a new phone for Christmas.

Kalon Ludvigson (TT): A sponsor to help me with expenses!

Tim McNeill (M): Well, I just got a Nintendo Wii and I only have one game, so I could use a few more. Gift cards to Chipotle, Chili's and Starbucks also wouldn't hurt.

Chellsie Memmel (W): Spending more time with my sister since I haven't been able to see her that much in the past months.

Michelle Milstein (R): There is no specific gift on my holiday wish list. Surprises are my favorite type of gifts!

Samantha Peszek (W): It’s usually pretty easy, but I’ve struggled this year to come up with things! I do want iPod speakers, an iPod hookup for my car, the movie Tristan & Isolde, and True Religion or 7 For All Mankind jeans.

Sofya Roytburg (R): A new cell phone and earrings. I like anything I get because it just makes me happy to know that the person cared to get something for me.

Katherine Scarnechia (R): A Juicy purse, clothes for my poodle, a Betsy Johnson dress, Crystal Rock clothes, Ed Hardy clothes and a new phone.

Leanne Seitzinger (TT): I didn't really ask for anything this year, just money to pay for expenses. So I'm thankful for whatever I get.

Bridget Sloan (W): I have three items on my wish list. I need a new phone, my license and a car. That’s all I need. Only three things. (said with a laugh)

Randy Stageberg (W): I don’t have much on my list, but I’d like clothes, CDs and a new camera.

Kevin Tan (M): A pet red-nosed reindeer. Other than that, time with loved ones.

Shayla Worley (W): I want a hard drive to back up my computer.

Julie Zetlin (R): A new handbag, a leather jacket and most of all, relaxing and catching up with my friends.