When there is so much pressure resting on you, the best thing to do is relax.
Even if you have to throw yourself in the air and flip over twice.
Even if you have to tumble on a 4-foot-high and 4-inch wide surface.
Even if you have to run toward a still object as fast as you can, like MSU junior gymnast Alina Cartwright does every day.
As MSU’s gymnastics season gets underway, Cartwright is focusing on relaxing to reach her goals of placing and medaling at the Big Ten championship, as well as at nationals.
Cartwright’s lofty goals date back to her career as a high school gymnast.
In 2011, during her senior year of high school, when she was a level 10 gymnast — the highest ranking level — she qualified for the Nastia Liukin Supergirl Cup at the WOGA Classic in Frisco, Texas. Only 35 girls attend every year, and she placed 12th.
With all her talent and potential, Cartwright was recruited and offered a full scholarship to MSU.
“We will seek out athletes at various gymnastics competitions, so my assistant coach saw her and was very impressed,” head coach Kathie Klages said.
Cartwright said she thought that in college gymnastics, athletes did not learn any more skills because she would be “too old,” so she was apprehensive if she would love it as much as she did in high school.
Klages said Cartwright came in as a timid freshman, not believing in herself.
“After last year, she went home for the summer and realized she was good at this gymnastics thing,” Klages said.
The gymnast has greatly improved since her freshman year, but knows she has more work to do.
“I need to work on being less nervous to compete better at each competition,” Cartwright said. “I need to learn to relax.”
She knows this will not only help her when she is presenting, but also will benefit the team. Teammate Elena Lagoski said everyone cares about each other, and if one improves, the whole team does.
“We all help and motivate each other and no matter how hard it is, we always pick it back up and know it’ll be okay,” Lagoski said. “The older girls (including Cartwright) help a lot.”
Klages said she thinks of Cartwright as a great leader and friend to her teammates.
Having Klages telling her “the key is confidence” made Cartwright push herself more.
“I found out that I have more skills in me,” Cartwright said.
Cartwright joined gymnastics as a recreational sport to exercise and burn off energy when she was 3 years old at her hometown gym, Naperville Gymnastics Club, in Naperville, Ill.
Seeking coaching because of her natural talent, she switched to a more serious gym.
Cartwright went on to be the level nine all-around national champion when she was a sophomore in high school in 2009.
Klages said she believes in Cartwright’s potential.
“She’s extremely powerful and likes to present and show off her floor routine well,” Klages said.
When she got to high school, Cartwright went a year without gymnastics, as she wanted to have time to do other things she enjoyed.
“I wanted to have a life, but then I realized I love gymnastics more than having free time,” Cartwright said.
During her few hours of free time, she practices photography and video editing. Cartwright is an advertising major but has not decided upon a career.
“I thought I was running out of time to do college gymnastics after that,” she said.
Younger teammates, like Lagoski, said Cartwright is positive, pushes people and motivates everyone to become better gymnasts.
“She’s intimidating because she works really hard,” Lagoski said.
Cartwright said she will continue to work on her goals, especially in getting 9.9s — almost a perfect score — in every event, and Lagoski and the rest of the team admire how hard she works to achieve it.
“I do look up to her because of how talented she is,” Lagoski said.
Leading by example is one of her main qualities, according to Klages, even though “she used to have rough attitudes earlier in her freshman (year).”
“Consistency of her gymnastics will help her achieve her goal,” Klages said. “She needs to be able to fix the little details, upgrade tumbling passes, and stick beam and bars landings and dismounts.”
The gymnastics team landed at No. 25 in the NCAA rankings recently with Cartwright’s help, but Klages said it is early and there is a lot to be done.
“We had a great first competition, but it’s very early in the season and we’re working on the little details,” Klages said.