It was my first season back in Level 10 competition after a successful elite career and short stint away from the sport. Even more, another teammate, (former LSU Tiger) Lexie Priessman, had won the Cup the year prior, I remember entering into the 2010 season eager to qualify and compete on that stage.
I remember the camaraderie the event bred. The Nastia Cup brings together Level 10 qualifiers from all over to dress in the same warmup and leotard and showcase their skills on an elite stage the night prior to the illustrious American Cup. Nastia Liukin, whom the competition is named for, is the 2008 Olympic Champion and one of the most decorated gymnasts in the sport. Nastia hosted a luncheon, designed our apparel and made time for one-on-one interactions with each athlete who qualified to the meet. In addition to incredible interactions with a gymnastics legend, I got to compete alongside gymnasts who would go on to have successful elite and NCAA careers. Future teammates Katie Bailey (Alabama) and Mackenzie Brannan (Alabama) rotated around the events with me. Most recently, Mykayla Skinner (Utah), Lauren Marinez (Michigan) and Grace Williams (Nebraska) were Elevate the Stage athletes who I had the opportunity to host with their respective collegiate teams, but at the 2011 Nastia Cup they were competitors to me. Current Michigan coach, Maile’ana Kanewa (Oklahoma), vied for the title of Nastia Cup champion in 2011 and now hopes to coach her respective team to an Elevate the Stage victory in 2020. The Nastia Cup brings together talented athletes who will likely go on to know each other in different ways and creates an environment where everyone can celebrate one another and their achievements.
In 2020, Elevate the Stage in Toledo, Ohio, a youth and collegiate gymnastics competition I coordinate for Knight Eady, will be a first-time Nastia Cup Qualifier. The meet features a podium very similar to that used at the eventual Nastia Cup. In addition to bringing a podium to the arena, we also welcome collegiate teams to compete on both Friday and Saturday. It has always been important to me that Elevate the Stage showcases all levels of gymnastics during the meet weekend. My ultimate goal for Elevate the Stage is to provide young gymnasts up-close examples of what happens when you are dedicated and disciplined in your efforts to evolve in the sport, and to give collegiate competitors an environment that feels like that of a national championship.
In accomplishing these goals, we also have the opportunity to help two Level 10s qualify to a meet that was a big, bright spot in my own gymnastics career. My hope is the two Level 10s who qualify to the Nastia Cup from Elevate the Stage Toledo will be very prepared: prepared to compete on podium and prepared to showcase their talents to all the youth who look up to them and to the energetic crowd the event brings. I hope they watch our collegiate matchups at Elevate the Stage and take note on how to perform their routines with a perfect 10.0 in mind and are eager to celebrate their successes with all the other qualifiers.
Hosting a Nastia Cup Qualifier in 2020 is meaningful to me as a former gymnast and as a meet host. I hope everyone who gets to experience Elevate the Stage in Toledo remembers the experience for years to come.