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Siesta Key gymnast sets his sights on a national championship

Eighteen-year-old Benjamin Aguilar will compete for the U.S. Military Academy next season. Before he goes, he wants one more crack at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships in May.

Benjamin Aguilar, who trains with EVO Athletics, is now in his final year of junior gymnastics.
Benjamin Aguilar, who trains with EVO Athletics, is now in his final year of junior gymnastics.
Photo by Ryan Kohn
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On April 1, 2023, Siesta Key’s Benjamin Aguilar spent his 17th birthday in pain. At a qualifying event for the 2023 Men’s Development Program National Championships, Aguilar dislocated his finger. Aguilar asked if he could petition into the championships; USA Gymnastics said no.

Bowing out and failing to qualify was not a real option in Aguilar’s mind. He was left with only one option: competing with a freshly dislocated finger.

“It was probably an 8 or 10 in terms of pain,” Aguilar says. “But I was told it couldn’t get any worse, so I sucked it up and did what I had to do.”

It’s something Aguilar refers to as a “funny story” now. He fought through the pain to qualify for the championships. He did well there, too. In fact, it was a strong enough performance to qualify for the 2023 Xfinity U.S. Gymnastics Championships, held in San Jose, California, last August. There, Aguilar finished 22nd in the all-around category of the men’s junior 17 division. His best performance came in the pommel horse, in which he finished ninth.

Aguilar, who trains with EVO Athletics, is now in his final year of junior gymnastics. He will compete for the United States Military Academy next season. Before he goes, he wants one more crack at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships, held May 30-June 2 in Fort Worth, Texas. To get there, he’ll have to perform well at the Development Program Nationals again. That event will be held May 9-12 in Daytona Beach.

Aguilar trains six days a week at EVO Athletics for 3.5 hours per session. Every session is different, Aguilar says, which is one of his favorite things about the sport. If one day is about floor routines, the next may be about the pommel horse, or the high bar. All are equally important.

The amount of work is routine for Aguilar. He started in gymnastics when he was 2 years old during a “Mommy and Me” class with his mother, Sarah Winchell. Aguilar’s family put him in that class because of the way he bounced. Jumping off couches and climbing trees at a neighborhood park were common occurrences. Aguilar also tried his hand at karate, he says, but elected to stick with gymnastics. Why? Because flipping around bars seemed cooler than breaking wooden boards. He never left the sport.

Benjamin Aguilar finished 12th in the All-Around category at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships in 2022.
Photo by Ryan Kohn

Aguilar has no regrets about the amount of time he has dedicated to the sport he loves over the last 15 years. But he does think about all the things he has sacrificed to get to where he is. His gymnastics schedule, combined with school, leaves little time for friends. It also limits the number of vacations his family can take because important competitions occur throughout the year. Still, he competes, because he has no other choice. It is the difference between motivation and discipline, he says. Motivation may get an athlete somewhere from time to time, but only when there is something tangible to gain. Discipline forces an athlete to work hard every day; long-term progression requires it.

There have been times where Aguilar wished he could skip practice to do something else, of course — he’s a teenager, after all. But in the end, he is thankful for where the sport has taken him.

“The sacrifices have given me an opportunity to go to college,” Aguilar says. “That is going to benefit the rest of my life. I can create a career from this.”

Despite all his success in the sport, Aguilar is always learning and adding to his skillset. He’s currently trying to perfect a high bar maneuver called the Kovács, named after Hungarian gymnast Péter Kovács. The trick consists of a full backflip over the bar — plus an initial flip into the air — and a blind catch of the bar on the way down. Since a gymnast attempting the move has to flip twice, Aguilar says, many young gymnasts shy away from attempting it. They are fearful of missing the blind catch and landing in an awkward position. Aguilar is willing to try.

None of Aguilar’s work has come easy. Aguilar says he struggled with the mental health aspects of the sport as a young gymnast before he took a class on psychology. In that class, he learned about the power of visualization. Now, he pictures himself completing each trick perfectly before he begins his routine. He speaks to himself in kind, encouraging words along the way. He still misses tricks sometimes, he says, and the nerves never completely go away, but they have become manageable.

That’s good: Butterflies in the stomach are a sign of excitement, too. Before moving into the next phase of his career, Aguilar is hoping he gets the chance to feel them at nationals one more time. Aguilar knows he can meet this goal — he’s done the work for it every day. 



Ryan Kohn

Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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