There is a history of competing at the highest level at the Bismarck Gymnastics Academy, but it’s been a few years since a gymnast has competed at nationals. Ellie DeForest changed that, and for her coaches, it’s been a long time coming.
On any random weekday, you can walk into BGA and find some of the top gymnasts in the area honing their skills, but one athlete with a calm demeanor is reaching new heights, all for a love of the sport.
“I love being able to say I can do the skills,” says level 9 gymnast DeForest. “I think it’s cool when I can show people that I can do a backflip.”
The gymnastics bug caught on at seven years old.
“It went pretty fast from there,” says Ellie DeForest. “I started competitions when I was eight. Ever since then I got moved up pretty quick and it’s always been what I’ve wanted to do.”
From there Ellie has gone to numerous competitions, soaking up everything on display from her competitors like a sponge.
“I love going to see normal competitions throughout the year,” says DeForest. “I love going out of state and seeing the other routines that all the girls have. Maybe get some ideas of what I want to do in the next couple years so I’m really excited to see that and other skillsets.”
A few weeks ago back, DeForest competed at what she thought was her last meet of the season in Minneapolis, until she got the news from her coach that she made Nationals.
“It was going to be between her and one girl,” says coach Torrea West. “She was up on floor. Ellie had no idea. I tried to make sure she had no idea through the meet. I was watching the girl go floor and she did a really good job. As soon as her score posted, I got a little bit giddy. I shed a few tears.”
Ellie immediately told her family, excited for what lay ahead.
“It’s been a long time coming,” says West. “She’s always had the potential. She’s not only believed that she could do it, I think this season has been a turning point. She actually knows that she can do it and that’s made all of the difference for her I feel like.”
Ellie credits her turn around to her coach Tori, one that has given her a mental edge over the competition.
“She really keeps me calm,” says DeForest. “Not to think ahead. Just stay in the moment. Not get too nervous. Focus on what I have to do.”
“She has really nice lines,” says West. “Her bars especially, it’s beautiful. She swings very powerfully. She’s just very clean.”
“We spend our entire summer, our entire offseason trying new skills,” says DeForest. “Seeing how much difficulty we can put in our routines to get bonus and stuff. Some skills take longer than others to get, but you just have to stick with it.”
The standout gymnast isn’t the only big athlete in the family. Ellie’s brother Ben is a top wrestler in the state, a relationship built on growing the confidence in each other.
“He loves to give me pep talks before my meets,” says DeForest. “I feel like I get a lot more nervous than him or I show it a little more. So he walks me through how to calm myself down a little bit. He reminds me that I can do it. I really like to talk to him before my meets.”
For historical context, Ellie becomes the 13th gymnast at BGA to go to nationals, but the first in what could be a new wave of talent coming to the Capital City.
“All the gymnasts who were able to go there have been so good,” says DeForest. “And I’ve always looked up to them a little bit. We’ve had their name on the boards and I’ve always wanted to have my name on the board.”
“I just hope she has a really good experience,” says West. “This wasn’t even a goal of her’s this year. This is just icing on the cake. We call it her bonus-bonus meet because regionals, that was her goal and for her to surpass it is just, it’s awesome.”
Ellie ended up finishing in the top 30 in all of her events over the weekend, with her best performances on bars and beam.