Ana Pérez, 3 time champion of Spain and Olympian in the Rio Olympics: a story of passion and improvement in artistic gymnastics
One of the features that defines artistic gymnastics are the frequent injuries experienced by athletes who practice it. Floor and jumping exercises, balance beam and uneven bars are exercises that require a lot of work and practice from the people who perform them. Professionals who demonstrate that in this sport concentration is everything.
Ana Pérez or Anita, as she is known in the world of artistic gymnastics, knows exactly what we are talking about. In conversation with Think Big we soak up her humility, letting us see the mature and fighting character of a veteran within her discipline. She is the firm example that no matter how many times we fall in the fight for a dream; It only matters how many times we get up and the learning we get after each fall.
Anita has been champion of Spain four times and was the only Spanish representative at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in the women’s artistic gymnastics modality. Without a doubt, this 24 year old is a emblem within the Spanish National Teamof which she has also been captain.
Anita: a connection with artistic gymnastics since she was 6 years old
This Sevillian connected with the world of artistic gymnastics thanks to her older brother. During family dinners, he would tell her sister and her parents about her adventures on the mat. While Anita, who was then practicing sevillanas, she dreamed of being the one to recount those exploits. Thus, when she was only 6 years old, she convinced her parents to sign her up. “I wanted to try those games that my brother had so much fun with”, says Anita. Despite being so small, she soon stood out from the rest of the girls. But a year later she had an injury, where she broke both her arms. This situation and her subsequent recovery extended over time during the following three years.
At the age of 10, she returned to artistic gymnastics showing all the desire she had accumulated during those years without being able to practice. She soon made her trainers see that she really could have a professional career dedicated to this discipline. Reason why, at the age of 11, her coaches made the decision to transfer her to the competition group. She stayed here for five years, until in 2014 she received a scholarship to be able to train at the High Performance Center (CAR) in Madrid, where numerous professional athletes train.
The fight to achieve a dream: to be an Olympian
A year later, in 2015, he became part of Telefónica’s Podium Scholarship Program. A support program for young promises of Spanish Olympic sport, developed by Telefónica and the Spanish Olympic Committee. Until now, this elite athlete has been combining the ADO scholarship (Association of Olympic Athletes) with the Podium scholarship. Currently, she is within the Telefónica program.
Anita remembers those years as a sea of emotions. Where the illusion and happiness to fight for the dream of being an Olympian was a constant; but where, she couldn’t help but miss the land of her. “I am a very familiar person and it was hard to see myself suddenly alone at 16 years old. Also, I went from being good at studies to having no time for them,” she recalls. Although, she is clear when she replies that she wouldn’t hesitate to repeat that journey all over again.
Not having time to study has not been an impediment for me to do so. While she trained morning and afternoon at the CAR, she found time to study a higher degree in early childhood education and another in nutrition, which she is currently studying. He says that, when in the future he stops competing in artistic gymnastics, he would like being able to help other athletes maintain good and adequate nutrition that allows them to achieve their goals, in a healthy way.
Between training and training, where he recognizes that his favorite discipline is the bars, the successes were arriving. In 2015 she became champion of Spain and participated in the 2015 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Glasgow, which she captained, qualifying for the Rio 2016 Olympics.
Finally, at just 19 years old, the moment he had been dreaming of since he decided to follow in his brother’s footsteps had arrived. She was the only Spanish representative in this discipline and, despite the fact that I cannot enter to compete for the final, she made it clear that Ana Pérez would be a name that we would begin to see in the headlines. “Even when I watch videos of the trials at the Rio Olympics I feel the same. The nerves, the illusion… I still can’t believe that I was able to live that experience”, Anita explains.
A path defined by a common denominator: loyalty to a team
These Olympics were preceded by other championships that placed this athlete as a benchmark in artistic gymnastics. Anita acknowledges that her biggest challenge was preparing, along with her teammates, to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. A much desired classification for all the professionals who were part of the Spanish team. “There were people who did not believe in our powers and we wanted to show everything we were capable of achieving“, it states.
Thus, in 2019 they participated in the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Stuttgart, winning a place as Olympians in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. A milestone in the history of women’s artistic gymnastics, since the figure of Spanish women, in teams , was not present at an Olympic Games since those held in Athens 2004.
Nobody expected that in 2020 the Olympics would not be held due to the arrival of a pandemic. A few months that were not easy for anyone, where many dreams had to be postponed. Like that of Anita and her companions, who thanks to technology were able to keep in touch. Remember that they connected morning and afternoon to train from their homes. This was very positive for them, especially on the days when they were saddest, because “you forgot what was happening around you“, bill.
She was the captain of the team and, although she admits that she never felt like it, she played a crucial role in the functioning of the group. Her job was to help her classmates and make them feel supported at all times. “We are a family. They are my sisters” she confesses. This family that she talks about and her commitment to all of them became very clear in January 2021, when she had an injury that ruled her out of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Despite the great pain he suffered during those months, not only physical, but also mental; she knew that her companions needed her. “It was hard for them to know that I was not going to accompany them. So, towards the effort of going to see them every day, asking them how they lookedetc.”.
18 years of passion and improvement in artistic gymnastics
Anita is clear that therapy has been a vital factor in her life and career. This Sevillian is aware that mental stability for an elite athlete is everything. “90% depends on being mentally healthy. If you think you can get it, you will get it,” she explains. In addition, he remembers that after the injury he had when he was 7 years old, he began to feel very nervous when he entered a competition. Nerves that she has been working on, hand in hand with a psychology professional, in order to overcome. Although, she acknowledges that she continues to work on it and is already much better.
She is the living example of an athlete who has traveled a tireless path of ups and downs, teaching us her great spirit of improvement and a beautiful lesson: “live day by day and value it”, she says. Anita is very clear that his present is to take care of himself and recover from his operation, because the competitions will be there, waiting. And this is one of the values that sport also transmits: patience and perseverance.
At the end of the interview, we asked this veteran if she wants to say anything else, and she is clear when she states that “everyone can fight to be an elite athlete. But if there is someone who one day does not see himself prepared to present himself to a competition, nothing happensbecause our well being always comes first, no matter what they say”.
Header image of the Royal Spanish Federation of Gymnastics courtesy of Ana Pérez.