Waubonsie Valley High School alumn Anna Li is the second oldest of fifteen women invited to San Jose, California for the U.S.A. gymnastic trials for the Olympics. At 23 years of age, Li’s considered old by gymnastics standards, but that’s not slowing her down.
Ever since she was little the aurora resident has been honing her gymnastics skills, even competing at the elite level around the world. But an injury in 2006 and the pursuit of higher education left li unable to chase her dreams of becoming an Olympian.
“My left foot was broken and so I had to get two screws in my foot so I couldn’t train to my max potential that I knew I could,” said Li. “Then I got ready for UCLA where I got a full-ride scholarship.”
While at college, Li recovered and went on to become an eight-time all American, leading her team at UCLA to a 2010 NCAA championship, but her gymnastics career didn’t end there.
“I was watching the elite level, watching the girls competing and I thought, ‘ You know, I think I can do that,’” Li said. “I called my parents who thought I was crazy and decided to make a come-back again.”
She’s made quite the return when secured a spot as an alternate on the 2011 world team, helping the team take first place. Now the gymnast says being older could work to her advantage as she prepares for the upcoming Olympic trials.
“I have a lot more experience competing in college,” she said. “At UCLA we competed every single weekend, and there [were] about 17 competitions in three months versus the Elite level, you only compete twice in the whole year.”
“I give her a lot of credit doing it when she’s 24 because cause even me at 18, it’s hard on your body and hard doing it this many years,” said Sarah Townsend, an 18 year-old gymnast from Lake Zurich who trains at the same gym as Li, Legacy Elite Gymnastics in Carol Stream. “The fact that she’s still coming into the gym every day and working hard [and] she’s working through injuries and have that drive in her to the best she can be, I think is really cool.”
Coaching Li are her parents, both Olympic medalists themselves. Her mother Jiani Wu won a bronze medal on the beam in 1981. That same year, her father Yuejiu Li was China’s first world champion on floor exercise. More recently, he was the coordinator for the 2008 Chinese men and women’s team that both won the gold in Beijing.
We know how much it takes to get to the trial and it’s not like [we] don’t believe [in] her, I just think how much you have to put out of yourself,” said Wu. “It’s not just physically, it’s mentally. You have to rest well, especially with age, before you performing highest level of skill.
If anything will put Li over the top, it’s her prowess on the uneven bars, where’s she’s already earned two perfect 10’s in NCAA competitions.
“She’s not an all-arounder and I think the Olympioc team needs the bars,” said Wu. “I think if they need they bar, they might pick her but really, just go to trial. She’s really accomplished a lot for her to come back, after this age, and after college and we [are] really proud of her so we just expect her to do the best that she’s prepared to do.”
“For Olympic trials, I’m just really excited,” said Li. “I’m just ready to go out there and have fun and this whole journey, coming back is to have no regrets in my gymnastics career and up to this point, I’ve had no regrets and I know whatever happens, I can walk out knowing I did everything I could at this level.”
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