Nicole Ahsinger is an elite level trampolinist that will represent the United States at the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China in August. She’s also partially blind.
“I used to run into things all the time,” Ahsinger said. “[The doctors] wanted me to go into gymnastics to get balance and be able to walk right. [My father] put me in a preschool class and hoped it would get better. Then, they found out that I was actually blind. I have to wear contacts all the time now.”
While the disability doesn’t hinder her anymore, Ahsinger’s inability to see perfectly caused many collisions on a daily basis with everything from falls to the ground in front of her. Trampoline was an outlet that not only helped her to build up balance but allowed her a place to have fun and be a kid as well.
Her lack of perfect sight wasn’t the only roadblock in her way through the national ranks. As a San Diego-native, Ahsinger trains at So Cal TTC under Scott Roscoe. However, Roscoe’s wife is sick ,and he can’t travel with Ahsinger to competitions on a regular basis.
Enter Dimitri Poliaroush in Lafayette, La. Poliaroush started working with Ahsinger remotely, using video to help with her training from 1,683 miles away. The pairing allowed Ahsinger to get the guidance she needed when Roscoe wasn’t able to be in the gym.
“When I’m at my other gym in San Diego, I’m not getting the full help about what exactly I’m doing wrong,” Ahsinger said. “Sometimes, Steve can’t come, so I have to figure out what I’m doing wrong. Dimitri tells me straight up this, this, this, you need to fix this and that’s what I do.”
But 1,500 miles between gymnast and coach is difficult even with the best forms of technology. Because of this, Ahsinger flies to Louisiana the week before every major competition to be able to fine-tune her routines with Poliaroush in person.
Some might say all of the traveling can ware a person down. But Ahsinger doesn’t mind.
“I love traveling,” Ahsinger said. “I fly every month, so it’s not that big of a deal. I used to say if I could, I’d live on an airplane.”
But that doesn’t mean Ahsinger wouldn’t choose to stay in one place if she could.
“I want to finish high school,” she said. “I have two more years of that then I’m going to go to college in Louisiana to try for the Olympics.”
No one thought she would get this far. No one thought Ahsinger would get to the level where traveling across the country once a month would be important for her training. Trampoline wasn’t even an Olympic discipline when she was first starting out. But once it was added to the Games in 2000, Ahsinger’s goals grew.
“I told my mom I wanted to go to the Olympics,” Ahsinger said. “She was like, ‘Yeah right, Nicole. You’re not going to go to the Olympics. There’s no chance.’ But I was like, ‘No, I really want to go.’ Ever since then, I’ve always had that ‘I want to go to the Olympics’ mentality.”
From that point on, Ahsinger worked toward her goal, doing anything she could to aid her on the way. However, the people close to her still believed she was just another kid claiming they were going to the Olympics one day. But it was always in the back of Ahsinger’s head.
Things changed the first time Ahsinger made the U.S. national team. It started to click in her peers and parents’ minds that she was being serious all those years. And if they needed even more persuading, Ahsinger’s qualification to the Youth Olympic Games pushed it over the edge like a raft heading for a waterfall.
“My mom cried. I was just in awe,” Ahsinger said. “I was just standing there thinking, ‘Wow. I really did it.’ I always thought I could do it. I just never thought I had a really good chance. I was more excited to get the U.S.’s spot for the Youth Olympics than actually me getting the spot for the Youth Olympics.”
Once her name was announced, everything Ahsinger thought might be a possibility in the back of her mind was confirmed and her confidence only grew. However, winning the spot was bittersweet. Because the trampoline community is so small, Ahsinger’s been friends with her competitors for as long as she can remember.
“Going by myself to this competition kind of feels weird,” Ahsinger said. “I was happy of course, but I felt like I couldn’t show I was really happy without being careful about them too.”
Ahsinger’s experience at the Youth Olympics will only better her chances of making the Olympic team in 2016. Just look at Savannah Vinsant in 2012. Vinsant was a 2010 Youth Olympian before winning the sole U.S. women’s spot for the London Games.
“[Savannah] told me before the Youth Olympic trials to not be nervous and other stuff to help me out,” Ahsinger said. “We’ve been close lately, and she’s helped me a lot.”
Although Ahsinger beat out all the other contenders for the spot, Ahsinger said she isn’t going to let her guard down. The other elite women still have just as much of a chance as she does of going to Rio de Janeiro.
“I’m not going to ease up and think I have a better shot than them,” Ahsinger said. I’ll still train really hard. There’s so many junior elites and the seniors are doing even harder stuff.”
From learning how to walk without falling down to flying across the country to train with another coach every month, Ahsinger’s path to Nanjing hasn’t been easy. However, now that she’s made it this far, there’s no limit to what she believes she can do.
“I just have a better mindset going into these competitions now,” she said. “I know I can do it. I’m going to the Youth Olympics. Why can’t I win right now?”