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Hannah Joyner.
Sarasota Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017 3 months ago

Booker High gymnast chooses life over former dreams

Prose and Kohn: Ryan Kohn.
by: Ryan Kohn Sports Reporter

This school year, for the first time in six years, Booker High junior Hannah Joyner will be able to catch her breath.

She’ll be able to go to the movies on a random Wednesday night. She’ll be able to go shopping at New York and Co., her favorite store, with her friends. And she’ll be able to sleep in her own Sarasota bed for more than a few days at a time, instead of constantly traveling, or worse, moving to a new state.

Joyner has done the latter three times in her 16-year-old life, all for her gymnastics career. Born in Maryland, Joyner’s journey has taken her to North Carolina, Texas and now Florida. The last two stops, she’s made because of Aimee Boorman, the U.S. women’s gymnastics coach for the 2016 Olympic Games and the personal coach of gold medalist Simone Biles for 12 years.

For the majority of her gymnastics career, Joyner competed at the elite level, on an Olympic track. Her mother, Donna Joyner, messaged Boorman and asked her if Hannah could come to Texas to train with her. Boorman said yes. Like with all her athletes, Boorman worked with Joyner to build trust and eliminate any emotional barriers between one another.

Hannah Joyner stands with her cereal box.
Hannah Joyner stands with her cereal box.

The work was worth it. Joyner reached the Secret U.S. Classic, a qualifier for the P&G Gymnastics Championships, from 2014-2016. She trained with Biles in Texas, and learned a lot from the person Joyner calls her role model. The two still talk from time to time. They even starred on the back of an “Olympic hopefuls” Corn Flakes box together.

Boorman accepted the director of gymnastics position at EVO Athletics in 2016. Joyner followed her, still competing in elite and doing well, reaching the 2016 P&G Gymnastics Championships in St. Louis. But she didn’t reach the Olympic team in 2016, and her chances at an Olympic berth in 2020, at the age of 19, are not strong, despite her talent. Gymnasts’ bodies simply don’t stay in peak performance shape for that long. It’s not impossible, Boorman said, but it would be difficult.

Joyner decided the slog of elite level gymnastics was no longer worth the sacrifices she was making, especially with no Olympic guarantee. She dropped to level 10, one notch below elite, and committed to Temple University on July 24. She’s also going back to public school, after six years of homeschooling for the sake of her gymnastics career.

“I just wanted to be less serious, get rid of the grind,” Joyner said. “I want to experience college. I’ve been in elite for three years. If I’m not going to go anywhere with it, I might as well have two years to build up to college.”

Her coach supported the decision.

“She had very logical reasons for it,” Boorman said. “She said, ‘I did elite. I got to experience it.’ She did commercials, she got to be on a cereal box. She got to do things that many elite gymnasts will never get to do. She felt really accomplished with that, and she wanted to change her focus and move on to college. I think it was the best road for her to go.”

Joyner is excited about Temple’s academics, she said, and getting to be a typical student athlete. She doesn’t quite know what her major is going to be, but that’s fine. College is still two years away. For now, the switch has cut Joyner’s daily practice time from six hours to four.

It was a hard decision, but Joyner is living with no regrets, and I applaud her for it. She’s spent 12 years working on her craft. It takes guts to walk away from her dream of the Olympics, even if it’s in her best interest. Now, she gets to breathe, and be a typical high school kid. Sometimes, athletes get pushed so hard, they never get to experience that. I’m glad Joyner will, and I’m glad she’s at peace with her decision.

Besides, no matter where her life goes, she’ll always have the cereal box.


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