For the second year in a row, Camas junior Kaylee Sugimoto has qualified to compete at the Women’s Junior Olympic National Championships on May 18, in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Sugimoto, a Camas gymnast, earned her place at the national gymnastics competition in mid-April after competing against athletes from throughout the Pacific Northwest at the USA Gymnastics Region 2 meet in Corvallis, Oregon.
The 2019 Oregon gymnastics all-around champion, Sugimoto competes at the Junior Olympics’ highest skill level — USA Gymnastics Level 10.
This isn’t the Camas gymnast’s first year competing at nationals. In 2018, Sugimoto hit four for four at the Junior Olympic National Championship meet, meaning she performed all four of her routines — on the vault, bars, floor and beam — without any mistakes or falls.
The straight-A Camas High junior has her eye on her future at this year’s national competition.
“This year I’d like to hit again on all my events, but would also like to attract some college attention,” Sugimoto said.
Dozens of college gymnastics coaches attend the national gymnastics meet each year, but the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), which regulates athletes at more than 1,200 North American schools and conferences, prevents coaches from contacting athletes until they are juniors in high school.
“Even when they are juniors, like Kaylee, the coaches can only contact the athletes under certain circumstances,” Rob Petit, one of Sugimoto’s two gymnastics coaches, said.
Petit instructs Sugimoto on the bars and vault, while Cassandra Jusino coaches her on floor and beam at the Multnomah Athletic Club (MAC) in Portland, where Sugimoto trains each day.
‘No time for parties or to hang out with friends’
Although she would love to be a part of the state championship Camas High gymnastics team, Sugimoto said she knows she just doesn’t have enough time in her day to pull off competing with USA Gymnastics and being on her high school team.
Already, the Camas junior trains five days a week, from 2:30 to 7 p.m., all year.
“I have to start school at 7:30 a.m., more than an hour before everyone else so I can leave at 1:55 p.m. instead of 3:20 p.m., which gives me enough time to make it to practice,” Sugimoto said.
The ride home from gymnastics practice in Portland to Camas usually takes 30 minutes, but can take up to two hours in heavy traffic. This is when Sugimoto typically does her homework, crafting essays and unsnarling math problems from the backseat of her parents’ vehicle.
“I get about three hours of homework each night and fit it in whenever and wherever I can, Sugimoto said.
Jusino, Sugimoto’s other coach, said gymnastics is a demanding sport.
“Being a part of this sport takes time and dedication, so there is no time for parties or to hang out with friends outside of school,” Jusino said.
Sugimoto said she still finds time to be social since she considers the girls on her gymnastics team her best friends and spends more time with her teammates — best friends — than with her own family.
Chasing perfection after injury
In November 2018, Sugimoto was working on a new tumbling pass on her floor exercise. The pass went well, but the Camas junior got distracted and severely twisted her ankle on another, easier, pass later that day.
“The initial exam was really bad. They thought she suffered multiple broken bones and put her in a hard cast for several weeks,” Petit said.
Luckily, Sugimoto recovered quicker than doctors expected. She said her ankle is still sore, but she is back to competing at full strength.
“I have my ankle taped every day, and when it hurts I make sure to give it plenty of ice,” Sugimoto said.
“I think she’s a mind-over-matter person,” Jusino said, “very tough mentally, and she’s also blessed that her body heals quickly.”
Her coaches believe that mental focus is what makes Sugimoto so good on the bars and beam, her two best events.
“I like the feeling on beam when you land something solid,” Sugimoto said. “And the bars are fun because I enjoy swinging and flying through the air to catch the bar.”
Her favorite aspect of gymnastics, however, is something that’s not as concrete.
“The feelings you get from performing,” Sugimoto said, describing her favorite thing about competing as a gymnast. “It’s the prize from working hard and chasing perfection.”