World Championship gold medal gymnast Anna Li may have her foot in a cast, but that’s not stopping her
from aiming for the Summer Olympics in London this July.
ISSUE: Spring 2012
DEPT: My Story
STORY: Anna Li
When I was 4, all I wanted was a sparkly gymnastics competition leotard. My parents told me I couldn’t get one unless I competed, and they were reluctant to get me started. They themselves had been in the 1984 Olympics for China and understood the commitment and discipline gymnastics required. It was demanding, to say the very least. However, I persisted, and by the age of 6, I had started my career in gymnastics.
When I was in high school, I competed at the elite level and trained for six to eight hours a day, six days a week, in addition to attending school. My parents trained me at their gym. With their help, I won a number of titles and placed at Nationals, the USA Championships and the U.S. Classics from 2002 to 2005.
When I was in college, I was a full-time athlete for UCLA and trained to be in all of the 17 competitions each season. Training began anywhere from 5:30 to 7 in the morning and ended at noon, followed by classes till the evening. As a college freshman, I competed in every event in every meet and was the only freshman in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) selected to be on the All-Pac-10 team in the all-around. I suffered a concussion my sophomore year, but I didn’t allow that to slow me down. I captured 19 individual victories, seven on bars, two on beam, four on floor, and five in the all-around. By my junior year, I had won the NCAA Regional title on uneven bars for the third consecutive year. During my last year at UCLA, I earned my fourth consecutive NCAA Regional bars title with a perfect 10. After college, I made the World Championship Team for 2011, the year the U.S. team brought home the gold. Shortly after, I had surgery and got two screws placed in my foot because it had been bothering me.
Right now, I am training to be on the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team at the London Summer Olympics this July. Though it has only been three months since my foot surgery, training has already begun. I’m at the gym all day, every morning and every evening. When you’re involved in the sport of gymnastics, you learn about strict discipline. When you start competing at the age of 6, you know what kind of competition you are competing in, and you know you’ve got to give it all you’ve got. You train your entire life for this kind of competition. It would be sad to shy away from this kind of opportunity.
However, even with my discipline and dedication, I can’t say it’s easy training six days a week with my coaches, who happen to be my Olympic gymnast parents. And I can’t say it’s easy getting up every morning to warm up and start my strength and conditioning. By the time my day is done, I just want to go home, rest, eat and get ready for the next day. There really isn’t much time for anything else.
It’s a lot of sacrifices. I don’t have a regular 9-to-5 job. Even my relationship with my boyfriend is different from most because gymnastics is my number one priority; my relationship isn’t. Who wants to hear that?
But then I have to remind myself what my head coach at UCLA said: “What hurts more — the pain of discipline or the pain of regret? The pain of failure or the pain of regret?” There are days when I want to give up. There is no guarantee that I’m going to make the Olympic gymnastics team. There are only five spots on the team and to get a spot on the team, it’s nearly impossible. But all I can do is train my hardest, and whatever happens, happens. If I try my best and work my hardest, I won’t regret the outcome. I surround myself with people who support my goals and aspirations. My friends and boyfriend understand and support me. My parents know my body and how I train under certain situations. We trust each other. They help me move forward.
It doesn’t matter what your dream is. If you want something, when you believe in yourself, no one can take that away from you if you give it your all. If it works out, that’s great. If it doesn’t, you know you tried your absolute best to be what you wanted to be. If I can accomplish something today, I’m going to push for my dream. I can definitely say I won’t have any regrets.
— as told to Han Cho
More stories from Audrey’s spring issue here.