“They don’t see it Kay! The 20 hours you put in every week, the countless numbers you do to perfect for them. The tears, sweat, and pain. They have no idea. Trying to balance school and gym at the same time! And though they do not know, they fill those seats in that Coliseum every home meet to show their appreciation! Blessed.”
This is what Kaylan Earls, a member of the No. 6 ranked University of Georgia Gymnastics team, has to say on her Instagram page under one of her amazing gymnastics photographs. Kaylan Earls is from Chicago, Illinois. She’s a senior Gym Dog, majoring in Communication Studies. She is the daughter of Derrick and Kimberly Earls and has two sisters, Kelsie and Kyra. I met Kaylan through a mutual friend and when I finally sat down to talk with her, it all made sense to me why she is the ray of sunshine and encouragement on her team. She is a remarkable talent and an inspiration to not only her fans but everyone she encounters.
Kaylan is a young lady who has always been driven and focused. She started gymnastics at age two. In high school, she attended Christa McAuliffe School of the Arts. Her classes were online so throughout the day she practiced at her club gym, Arena Gymnastics. A club gym is a private gym where you train to go to the Olympics or in Kaylan’s case, train for college gymnastics. When describing what online classes were like, Kaylan says, “Online classes sucked because when you needed help you didn’t have hands on teaching and you just had to figure it out. I hated it because coming to the University was a big expectation.” Well, I’d like to inform you that Kaylan Earls graduated the Valedictorian of her class. I’d argue that her past and present accomplishments speak for themselves! Determination has always guided her steps.
Last season, Kaylan was named second team All-American on beam by the NACGC/W. This means that her beam scores for the 2013 season were nationally ranked. She competed on beam for sixteen meets and on floor exercise for fourteen meets. This season, she is competing again on the balance beam and floor exercise. “I’ve trained uneven bars but it’s not my strongest event. The floor exercise is my favorite because it is fun and you get to show your personality,” Kaylan says when describing her events for this season. It’s no surprise to me that her floor music is “Grown Woman” by Beyonce [Kaylan loves Beyonce!]. So how exactly are floor routines created, you ask? “We have a choreographer that makes up our floor routines and when you come to college, you find out what scales work best because you’re trying to get as close to a ten as possible.” Kaylan has mastered that art; on February 1, she scored a 9.9 on floor versus Kentucky and scored a 9.9 last season versus No. 10 ranked Stanford. When speaking of her expectations for the rest of her senior season, Kaylan says it’s to improve each meet and give her best to contribute to her team. So far, she has competed in 9 meets this season and the next one will be in Athens, Georgia at the Coliseum versus Arkansas on March 1st.
So if you’re like me, you have the same question I had: Why not compete for the Olympics? With a smile, she says, “I feel like I’m too old to pursue it. That life is much more demanding than the life I already live and I don’t think my body can handle two-a-day practices. It’s time to start a new chapter in my life.” However, her role model happens to be Dominique Dawes, a successful Olympic gymnast who is best known as being a member of the “Magnificent Seven” that took the gold medal in the 1996 Olympics in our very own Atlanta, Georgia. “[I like Dominique because] there aren’t that many black gymnasts and for her to make it to the Olympics and be successful is huge. I’ve even had the opportunity to meet her. I’ve always wanted to be good like her.”
Kaylan is an individual who believes in discipline, accountability, and encouragement. “I believe that my role is more than my talents because my team knows that they can always come to me and talk to me about anything. I bring a lot of energy to the team and I think also being a senior, I will hold my team accountable to something I know they can do better at.” She doesn’t take all of the credit away from her seniors though, which is why she’s such a good team player. “I’m the perfect combination of our seniors! One is very encouraging and the other is straight to the point.” Her passion and her love for her team is what fuels her spirit. “We are like sisters! They know I have their back through whatever.”
My favorite thing about Kaylan is how humble she is. I don’t see humility often in many of the college athletes I meet, it is very obvious that Kaylan is exceptional in more ways than one. She grew up in a neighborhood that wasn’t exactly the best and she was surrounded by people who didn’t have much ambition in life. She’s extremely humbled and grateful for her blessings. “I’m blessed to have a college scholarship and be on the right track. Not many people [back home in my neighborhood] have any direction in life and it makes me appreciate it all so much more. I knew I was never going to give up.”
The best thing about journalism is that I get to tell everyone about the aspects of these athletes lives that most people don’t think to consider. What Kaylan dislikes the most about being a college athlete is the fact that people have the expectation that their lives are easy. Everything is not handed to them on a silver platter, despite what it seems. “Our days are long and hard. We really have to be on ours P’s and Q’s at all times”, she says. But Kaylan finds ultimate satisfaction in knowing that she is a role model for so many little girls and young gymnasts. “I like that little girls look up to me. It makes me want to be a better person and strive to be the best I can be.” Kaylan puts in some long days at times, but priceless moments with fans make it all worth it. Her advice to young girls is this: “Never give up on what your heart is calling you to do! Times will be tough but it is up to you on how you face those challenges.”
To sum it all up, Kaylan is an individual who leads by example. She doesn’t follow the paths of others but rather makes her own way. She is humbled by her talents and appreciates her family more than anyone I’ve ever met. “It’s expensive!” She says when referring to the amount of money her parents spent on her growing up as a gymnast. She says that she is glad to be able to pay them back by getting a scholarship. She’s also strong; she has to find close friends to lean on when she is homesick for Chicago. Kaylan is a bit of an introvert; she enjoys to watch movies and chill with her friends and teammates. But on the flip side, she is the spirit that leads her team. But more importantly to Kaylan, she give thanks to God daily for her blessings and understands that without her faith, she wouldn’t be where she is today. “I owe everything to God. Not a day goes by that I don’t forget to thank Him for all that He has given me,” she says. So to all you young girls who aspire to be a gymnast as well as to all people who want to better themselves, I want to challenge you to follow in Kaylan Earl’s footsteps! She states that after college she wants to get an internship somewhere and get her feet wet in the television or radio industry. “I just want to get into something to see where I wanna go in life”, she says. Kaylan, I think it is safe to say that you are well on your way! I’m so proud to know such a sweet spirit!