Before starting eighth grade Konnor McClain made the Junior U.S. Women’s National Team for Gymnastics.
Konnor, 13, clinched fifth place at the 2018 U.S. Gymnastics Championships at TD Garden in Boston from Aug. 16 to Aug. 19. Twenty-five girls from across the nation competed, and only the top six made the team.
Her mother, Lorinda McClain, said it was apparent from a young age that Konnor was talented.
During her “mommy and me classes” Konnor walked across a balance beam without any assistance. She was only 18 months old.
“Even at 18 months she did not want help,” Lorinda said. “She could do it all by herself.”
Konnor said the first time she could remember gymnastics sparking her interest was when she would practice with her older sister.
“She would come home and show me what she learned, and I would do it,” Konnor said.
This was when her mother said she noticed there was “something special” about Konnor.
“She was doing the same things as someone three years older,” Lorinda said.
Konnor began working with Susan Brown, coach and owner of Revolution Gymnastics, when she was 3 years old.
But her ties to the McClains go back further than that. Lorinda and Brown grew up in Cross Lanes together and have known each other since they were 5.
Brown said that Konnor has always been a little shy but a fast learner. The 13-year-old is soft spoken, but when she steps on the beam she has confident presence as she demonstrates each skill, doing flips on the confined space.
“Those kids who are quiet — and tend to listen for years and years — are very smart,” Brown said. “They take in a lot. In watching her even at a young age process corrections, I knew something was special on a cognitive level.”
It was also clear early on that Konnor was athletically talented, Brown said. Konnor took her first steps at 6 1/2 months.
“We had her evaluated by a physical therapist to make sure it was OK, because technically you’re not supposed to walk that early,” Lorinda said.
It was when Konnor was 7 years old that Brown realized her full capabilities. She was a part of the USA Gymnastics’ Talent Opportunity Program, which tested girls 7-10 on their physical strength and flexibility. By the time she was 8 she was invited to the USA Gymnastics developmental camps.
Since Konnor is in high-pressure competitions she has been working with a “mental toughness” coach, Brown said. One of the things they work on is staying in the moment.
“You have to take it one day at a time, one meet at a time, one practice at a time,” Brown said. “Just hit the routine [and] don’t overthink things.”
These were tactics Konnor took to Boston with her. She knew making the women’s team was a possibility but she didn’t let it break her focus.
“I was wondering about the team, but I knew it was OK if I didn’t make it,” Konnor said.
She didn’t qualify for the last championships and has come a long way since then, Brown said, adding that she gave one of the strongest performance on bars that she’s ever seen from Konnor.
But Konnor said bars is actually what she finds most difficult.
“I think bars is the hardest for everybody,” Konnor said. “I used to have trouble with it, but I think I’m getting the hang of it now.”
But she adds that the challenge is why she likes it. This comes as no surprise to her mother who described her daughter as “the most motivated person.” Brown echoed this sentiment.
“With Konnor, she’s such a hard worker that I’m not pushing her,” Brown said. “She’s leading me.”