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Shelby Kisiel to Rhythmic National Team

Teen lives and trains in city where snow is high, temps are low, and future is sunny

To really appreciate the fact that 16-year-old rhythmic gymnast Shelby Kisiel was named to the 2010 USA national team and just competed at the world championships, it’s important to understand her short but sweet past.

Shelby was already 11 when she decided to switch to rhythmic gymnastics, a sport where the serious contenders her age already had a half dozen years experience on her. Some had even started jumping through hoops at the gym by the time they were 4. So here was Shelby, athletic and graceful, but far behind her peers in experience. Taking into account this is a sport where girls peak by age 20, Shelby was not only considered middle aged by rhythmic gymnastic years, but she was also a rookie.

Being an old and inexperienced gymnast didn’t faze Shelby because she was a bundle of raw talent just waiting to be molded. She had already taken regular (artistic) gymnastic lessons, which by the way, turns out to be only a little the same, but really a whole lot different than its cousin, rhythmic gymnastics. By the time she walked in the gym, she had already shown promise in the tough and competitive sports of ice skating and diving, but soon decided to give that up too.

Shelby leaped into the world of rhythmic gymnastics the way she handles everything in her life, with unquestionable devotion, hard work and poise. And the sport embraced her back. In just a little more than four years Shelby had taken the sport by storm; excelling at warp speed, earning some serious medals, and this year USA Gymnastics named her to the U.S. Rhythmic National Team. While the thought of competing at the 2012 Olympic games in London is exciting to her and well within her grasp, Shelby’s main focus is on learning and mastering new routines.

“I love learning new routines,” said Shelby, who is trained by top shelf coaches. “I’m focused on gaining confidence.”

Even though Shelby is barely 16, she’s given little thought to a driver’s license and car. The train is her mode of transportation. Besides, she wouldn’t have the time for learning to drive even if she wanted to.

During most of the year, Shelby lives with a host family in Chicago, a city about 1,200 miles away from her family, where winter snow is sometimes measured in feet rather than inches. She lives there so she can train at a gym with world-renowned rhythmic coaches while her family; mom, Mandy, dad, James, sister, Meghan, 15, and little brother Sam, who is 5, live here in Missouri City. They see each other as often as they can. Shelby comes back home and sees her family on breaks, a couple weeks at a time and James has a job that takes him to Chicago about once a month, so they get to spend some extra time together.

Shelby loves it there. She doesn’t even mind the snow or cold or her crazy, busy schedule. A typical day starts with Shelby doing a full morning of homework at her host family’s house. She’s homeschooled, but not in the traditional sense. Her parents wear the homeschooled teacher hat; it’s just that the student and classroom are in someone else’s home, half way across the country. While Shelby’s school schedule is flexible it is by no means easy. She has a syllabus of assignments that she follows closely and her parents check her work electronically each day.

After a full morning of school most kids would be thinking the end of their day is near, but Shelby’s is just beginning. In the early afternoon she takes a 40-minute train ride by herself to the gym where she then puts in a six-hour practice every day followed by another train ride back. And sometimes there’s more homework to be done.

When Shelby isn’t training in the windy city, or back home for breaks, she might be found traveling to countries like Canada, Russia and Hungary where she competed with her other family; the USA Rhythmic Gymnastics team.

And, rather than choose a more high profile sport, Shelby chose one that to this day is still a bit misunderstood. Although rhythmic gymnastics is both beautiful and mesmerizing, unfortunately, people are still confused by it.

So where are the bars and the beams anyway? Not in a rhythmic gym. The vault and unevens? Not there, either. Mention the word gymnastics and most people will conjure up imagines of power and speed, multiple flips and perfect ten landings. So no wonder spectators of rhythmic gymnastics are really puzzled at first. Especially with the athlete’s skillful use of hand-help apparatuses such as clubs, balls, hoops, ribbons and rope in routines choreographed to music.

It doesn’t take long to see that rhythmic gymnastics is a graceful combination of ballet with the athleticism of gymnastics. If artistic gymnastics is for small acrobats then rhythmic gymnastics is for tall dancers.

“It’s a beautiful sport and it matches my personality. I love being able to express my heart, mind and soul to the music,” said Shelby.

Shelby Kisiel was named to the USA Rhythmic Gymnastics team.

By Cindy Ziervogel

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