Olympic vision is 2020
Six years ago, he remembers watching his favorite Olympic gymnast, Jonathan Horton, for the first time on television. He would spend long afternoons watching and rewatching the famous gymnast, mesmerized by the fluidity of Horton’s movements and the quiet confidence that Horton exuded. He wanted to be just like him. But today, as one of the top nationally ranked gymnasts of his age group, freshman Caleb Rickard is not so far from taking the stage at the Olympics himself; this past May, Rickard competed in the Junior Olympic Nationals, placing fifteenth in the nation and first in vault after day one of the competition.
“When I was growing up, either Jonathan Horton or Alexander Artemev was my role model. They started off like me in a small city and then built their way up to the Olympics, which is sort of my goal now,” Rickard said. “That would be one of my dreams.”
His own journey began 10 years ago. Initially, Rickard’s parents signed him up for gymnastic lessons to build his coordination for baseball at the mere age of three.
“I did baseball when I was younger, so my parents wanted me to get more coordination,” Rickard said. “I started doing gymnastics then and I ended up stopping baseball and kept doing gymnastics. I didn’t really know what [gymnastics] was.”
When Rickard was a novice gymnast, practice was usually just a couple of recreational group lessons once or twice a week at the local gym. But now, Rickard has a far more serious approach to gymnastics, and it shows in the 3.5-4.5 hours he spends each day for five days a week at Diamond Elite Gymnastics, where Rickard is a member of its youth team.
“I started at a young age, so I got better and better at it, and it just became part of my routine. I would say that doing gymnastics is routine for me because it’s like I wake up, go to school, then practice and do homework. It’s been almost the same every day for the last eight years,” Rickard said. “I have a little bit of time before my practice starts [to do some homework], but I’m usually up late after that. [I sacrifice my sleep] because I love the sport and it’s practically my life now.”
Around last year, Rickard reached a low point in his gymnastics career and almost considered quitting the sport he loved. It seemed impossible to find time to do homework after four hours of practice every day. With encouragement from his family and teammate Nick Kano, however, he was able to rebound from this period of time and now looks back at it as a learning experience. To this day, Rickard still sees his family as his biggest supporters and credits Kano for encouraging him to take on the leadership role on his Diamond Elite Gymnastics team.
“There was a time when I wanted to quit and just overcoming that was kind of hard, because I spent so much time and effort to get this far, and just to let it all go would have been a waste.
It just got really hard with school. I almost didn’t compete in that season, but I ended up competing and that was the year that I almost won regional competition. My parents were pushing me, and one of my teammates who’s off to college now – [Nick Kano] – he was really pushing me, too. He would talk me through practices if [they were] getting hard, and he would encourage me a lot,” Rickard said. “My dad comes to almost every single [competition] and my mom tries to come to as many as possible, but she has my other siblings to watch after. My sister comes to as many as she can, too. It’s good motivation because I know if I do well, I’ll have someone to congratulate me and push me through if I did bad.”
Now, as a highly ranked gymnast in his age group, Rickard practices daily to prepare himself for the other competitors at this year’s Junior Olympics Nationals. He was even invited to a gymnastics camp, held for the top regional gymnasts, several weeks ago in Tehachapi, CA.
“[At the camp,] I was sitting with a bunch of older guys and guys my age, just doing crazy stuff. That really pumped me up to think, ‘Oh, I could be that good, I could get to where they are and maybe even better, and make my goals come true,’” Rickard said.
By placing in the Junior Olympics, Rickard knows that his ultimate dream of tumbling across the gym mats at the 2020 Olympics will be in reach.
“Winning a national competition is one of my goals right now. [It would] be pretty cool and one step closer to making the Olympics, which is my major goal,” Rickard said. “I know I [will] be able to make it a little further if I go step by step.”
By Alison Chang, Feature editor