South Dakota gymnast strives to be elite athlete
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — With a spring floor beneath her feet, Danielle Sievers calculates her next run before performing a set that only one gymnast before has ever successfully landed in competition.
A double flip with a half twist. Better known as “The Biles.”
Named after 2016 Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles, the skill is officially known as a double layout with a half twist, and it’s a difficult one to master.
At 14 years old, Sievers has done it, putting the Deuel High School student on a fast track to success in a demanding sport, the Argus Leader reported.
Sievers, who trains at the All American Gymnastics Academy in Sioux Falls, has quite a few titles to her name, including two-time floor exercise champion and fourth place all-around gymnast in her age division at the Junior Olympic National Championships, most recently last month in Cincinnati.
Before even starting high school, Sievers had already verbally committed to the University of Nebraska on a full-ride scholarship offer to compete in college.
“She knows what she wants, and she knows how to get there,” says Karen Sievers of her daughter, who participates in club rather than high school gymnastics. “It’s not just hanging at the ice cream stand with her friends. She knows that she has to practice and put in the time.”
To turn her ambitions into trophies, Sievers dedicates four hours each day to stretching, conditioning and practicing skills in each of the four gymnastic events: balance beam, uneven bars, vault and her favorite — floor exercise.
She spends a total of 20-30 hours each week during both the summer and school year at practice, making the sport a major commitment for the resident of Gary, a town of 230 residents located 40 miles southeast of Watertown.
With a 210-mile round trip to Sioux Falls, the travel for gymnastics adds up to more than 65,000 miles a year.
Between time spent at practice and on the road, Sievers did most of her schooling online her freshman year of high school. She plans to fulfill half her classes in school for her upcoming sophomore year and hopes to maintain her No. 1 class ranking.
Despite her success, Sievers has faced setbacks and injury. She has battled back from a broken hand and fractured wrist, in addition to a hamstring injury this past season that slowed her progress and added a few learning curves.
Those obstacles didn’t stop her from defending her title as a national floor champion and landing invitations to join the Junior Olympic national team and attend the national training camp, honors given to only the top four gymnasts in each division at the national championships.
Sievers will be traveling to the National Team Camp at Flip Fest in Crossville, Tennessee, in September to work with Olympic-level coaches and hone in on new skills.
“I’ve just done it for so long,” said Sievers of the sport. “All the friends that I’ve met along the way make it better.”
Surrounded by teammates, Sievers’ ears often ring with cheers of ‘Go Dani!’ before tumbling along with her floor routine or approaching a dismount off the beam.
Currently, she’s one of seven Level 10 competitors at the All American Academy and hopes to join the Elite training program sometime soon.
Don Otis, her coach at the academy, said that Sievers is a great teammate and has the personal drive to attempt skills that other competitors might be reluctant to try.
“She picks up on a lot of things really quickly, which is fun,” Otis said. “You can ask her to throw some of these big skills, and she’ll just get it.”
Sievers has been competing in gymnastics for 11 years, beginning with a promising cartwheel at age 3. After starting in the Dakota Gold program in Watertown, she began traveling to Sioux Falls in 2012 to train in the Junior Olympics program after her sister, Meaghan, decided to switch gyms for a higher competition level.
Her parents are just as committed to the sport, driving Sievers to practice and travelling to competitions and camps across the country. The family has a streak of athleticism, with Meaghan competing in gymnastics for Iowa State and brother Devon wrestling for South Dakota State.
“It’s just fun to watch them work hard and achieve goals,” said father Dan Sievers. “They just work so hard, and they’re so committed.”
Even after hours of work, Danielle said that her teammates are what make the sport worth the time and physical commitment.
“They’re just fun and make me laugh all the time,” she said.
Information from: Argus Leader, http://www.argusleader.com