The Gym-Max Family

12:43 PM Arabian Punch Front 14 Comments

Kyla Ross and Felicia Hano
edit by vmkedits

I had the opportunity to visit Gym-Max Gymnastics in California. The gym, owned by Howie Liang and 2014 US World Team Coach Jenny Zhang, is the home of Kyla Ross - 2012 Olympic and 2014 World Team Champion and 2014 World All Around Bronze Medalist. The Gym-Max family continues to grow as National Team member Felicia Hano and cheerleader turned artistic gymnast Laney Madsen joined the top group.

Gym-Max is an amazing enterprise and the gym was full of students ranging from the littlest level 3s to the elite girls, all practicing at the same time, all getting to experience world class coaching. The attention to detail was intense even for the youngest girls - there were pointed toes everywhere and Howie came by to correct the positioning of the younger girls as they lined up for their assignments. 
The camaraderie was easily evident amongst the level 10/elite training group and the "friendly competition" was also a clear motivator. Both Kyla and Felicia were very supportive of each other throughout all of practice.

When I got there, the girls had already started practice and completed floor and were working their way through their beam workout. From what I saw, their elite routines at the moment look about the same with Kyla's routine being slightly adjusted to protect her back. The two girls were very calm and worked very diligently. Laney was also in this group and was a fearless little firecracker. She worked her back handspring - tuck full and if she fell, she jumped right back on the beam quickly and tried again. The girls worked dismounts too and I noticed what incredible height Kyla gets on her double tuck. [Also, even from where I was, Kyla's switch ring is amazing.]

Felicia and Kyla then went to the rod floor with a pit at the end. Kyla worked some upgraded and new dance elements. They still seem pretty new as the rotation wasn't complete or she fell out of them early but I'm sure she'll master them in time. Felicia was working 2.5s and triple twists onto a mat. The 2.5s looked really good so I wouldn't be surprised to see that or the triple in her routine. The high beams, bars, and vaults were on the far end of the gym. Felicia and Kyla came over to where I was to work on the low beams to work front tuck half. This was definitely where the friendly competition came into play. You could tell, "Congratulations, you stood yours up! I better get mine too!" Each turn, the girls were pushing themselves to do better than the previous attempt.

Then the girls went to bars (again on the far side of the gym) with Howie. I haven't seen Felicia compete bars since 2013 so I was very curious to see what she had been working on. Turns out to be very interesting! She's working a Ray (toe-on straddled Tkatchev) to Pak and the connection was very solid. She lost some form on the Pak so kept reworking those. Kyla's continuing to work her toe-on skills as the in bar stalders are hard on her back. I saw a lot of the skills we know but she's clearly reworking the routine. For example, the toe 1/1 was on the low bar connected to Maloney to pak. The van Leeuwen followed but is not yet connected. She's hoping to incorporate a new skill this year - a full twisting Pak salto! That wasn't in the routine yet as Kyla and Howie are working really hard to get the technique right so it won't hurt her back. It looks amazing though!

Jenny had a moment to sit down with me as her group had a quick water break and warm up session. Jenny is such a sweet and lovely (and hilarious) woman! She mentioned how proud she was of Kyla to be able to keep her focus during the 2014 World Championship all around final and not compare herself to the other athletes. It was that focus and determination that put her on the podium. We spoke about Felicia who is such a positive force in the gym and how she's come back from injury to become such a strong all around gymnast.

I didn't get to interview Laney because Laney's still very young and new to the sport. She's a 2001 baby (turning 14 this year) who only recently made the switch from cheerleading to artistic gymnastics. She has such a passion for the sport and did have some basics from cheerleading but a lot of the little things had to be fixed - proper hurdle technique, learning how to walk on the beam, etc. On bars, she had to start from scratch with the level 3s. Only time will tell how Laney will do in the future but she's clearly very excited about the sport.  

Lastly, the girls went to vault to finish up practice. I was amazed at how quickly they worked up to solid double twisting Yurchenkos. Both girls have stuck their vaults in competition and it's apparent how proficient they are.

Photo Credit: Christy Ann Linder

... on 2014
I think 2014 went pretty well. I know that the beginning of the year was pretty hard because I was coming back from a back injury but I pushed through that and I was happy to be able to compete at the Jesolo meet and do well. Coming into P&G Championships, I know that I didn't have that high of a start value but I just wanted to come out and do my best. I know that the first day went pretty rough in that competition but I was glad that I came back strong and finished well. Going into Worlds camp, I'd been training really good so I felt confident going into that. Then, unfortunately a little bit right before we headed out to China, I hurt my hamstring and that was something I really had to push through throughout the whole training coming up to World Championships. We had really good trainers that were helping me throughout the way so I was able to compete all 4 events in team which is a pretty big deal and a lot of pressure but I was able to handle it and I think that went well. I was really happy to come up with the bronze in the all around. I know I really wasn't expecting much because I had lower start values than the year before but I just persevered through the whole meet and came up with that so I was really happy. Coming back from Worlds, I've been training a little bit of new skills and just trying to clean up and get stronger on all the events.

... on injuries
I'm doing pretty good. I know right after Worlds, my back was a little bit stiff since I was working some new skills on bars and it's a lot better. I've been able to keep working and just trying to improve all my start values. My hip got a lot better right when I rested it a few weeks after Worlds. That healed up really quick.

... on her proudest moment
Of course I'm going to say the Olympics because that was a huge deal and something I really worked for all my life. That feels like forever ago so definitely winning team at Worlds last year was a pretty big deal because that was only the second team since London. That was my first World team so that was a really special moment too. Especially to be out there with a lot of the new girls - it was their first time - and seeing their reaction and how proud they were. That was a really special moment.

... comparing Worlds 2013 and 2014
I think Worlds 2013, that one went pretty good because my start values were a little bit higher so I knew that I was a little bit more of a contender for the medals. They both went pretty well and I was able to come back pretty strong. Last year, on beam finals I was a little disappointed. Hopefully I can work on that and give that a shot next year.

... on going into the Worlds 2014 AA EF in 5th
Yeah, I did think about it. I knew that I didn't have a strong chance for being part of the medal count but I knew that I just had to focus on myself and just really do my best and I was able to just hit all of my routines as best as I can. I know I really didn't focus on anyone else because that's really what can distract you from your goals.

... on goals for 2015
I think one of my biggest goals is really to improve my start value on bars. I've been working a lot on that. That's really one of my strongest events so I want to try and push that as hard as I can. I know i've been working to get my whip double arabian to back on floor so that's something I've been really anxious about. Vault I'm pretty much gonna keep my double but I know... maybe I'll do 2.5 in the future [laughs] but not really right now. Beam I'm working front tuck 1/2 but it's kinda far away. That's pretty much what I've been working towards this year. I haven't been working it recently but hopefully if I can get my double full stronger maybe I'll train it in the future. Oh I haven't worked [side aerial - layout stepout on beam] in a while. Consistency wise, it was really risky and Martha wants me to really help the team so she didn't really like that series.

... on college
This year has been a lot of pressure because everyone's like "Oh my gosh, she still hasn't committed anywhere" and it's been on my mind a lot especially after Worlds. I went on a college visit to UCLA and then a college visit to Stanford. Those are really my top 2 picks. After seeing both ... I think I'm more leaning towards Stanford. I love the campus there and I love the team and the coaches. But I mean I also love Miss Val cuz I've known her forever but I don't fit in as much there. But I didn't apply this year so that's why nothing's official. I'm deferring next year for 2016 but I'm also not applying til next November. Hopefully, I'll get in next year [laughs].

... on 2016
That really has been what I've been working for all these years after 2012 and I'm really going to push myself that year, especially being able to not have any more school. To be able to be done with that, I'm really going to put 110% into my gymnastics and gear up for the 2016 season.

... on team dynamics now with Felicia and Laney
Yeah! [laughs and her face lights up with a smile] It's been a lot of fun being able to go to camp and have Laney and Felicia there with me and it's also helped here in the gym push me more and sort of take me even farther. So I think that's really good to have a little bit of competitiveness at home so everyday you're just pushing your best. So that's been fun. Also, to be able to sort of lead them and show them how elite senior really is and help them is really fun too.

... how would you describe yourself
I think I'd describe myself as really ... I'm really a perfectionist and also very determined. I know I'm not very showy and stuff but I like to ... I more express myself through my gymnastics.

... favorite event
Bars. I do like doing floor. I can't wait! I'm getting a new floor routine in a few months. Dominic [Zito] is searching for music and I'm so anxious. He told me he found music but he still hasn't shown me yet so I'm so anxious [laughs].

... to her fans
Thank you for always supporting me!

Photo Credit: Christy Ann Linder

... on starting gymnastics
I saw it one day on TV and I told my mom that's what I wanted to do and she enrolled me in some classes.

... on picking between trampoline and artistic [Felicia Hano trained both trampoline and artistic gymnastics for some time]
I stopped TnT in 2009 after World Age Groups and then I've focused on artistic only after that. I really like trampoline and tumbling but I knew there's only so far you can go and you couldn't get a college scholarship. That's really what I wanted and artistic could give me that. I definitely miss seeing everybody cuz I've known them since I was really little and I also miss tumbling because I really liked tumbling a lot. That's what I probably miss the most.

... on switching to Gym Max
I knew that Howie and Jenny could take me where I wanted to go in elite and that they could help me reach my goal of making the National Team.

... on her favorite thing about Gym Max
Definitely the atmosphere. Everything is so upbeat and so light. I work better in that environment where the energy is so high.

... on 2014
I would deem 2014 as a great year. I mean, it was probably my most successful year in gymnastics, making the National Team and then making the Pan Am Championship team. That was just really amazing. [laughs]

... on Pan Ams 2014
It was up to the last second, like we didn't know who was going to be alternate but I'm kind of glad that I was alternate just so I could see how an international competition goes. It was a really great experience and I had a lot of fun.

... on her proudest moment
Definitely making the National Team. I've always wanted to make National Team so it was really great.

... on 2013 UB [During Day 2 of 2013 Nationals, Felicia fell off the UB on a toe on skill and had a concussion. In 2014, she competed UB at the American Classic at the Ranch but not at Secret Classic or P&G Championships]
Yeah, was not expecting that. Right before, about a week before Nationals in 2013, I was doing a front tuck on beam and I landed [wrong] and I had to get stitches. So I competed at nationals with stitches in my foot and I had my foot heavily taped and I just wasn't used to it on bars and they just slipped. I was a little bit cautious going back into the gym but I knew I had to get over that to push forward and hopefully do bars soon. My bars have definitely improved.

... on a 2nd vault [Felicia was working a Kasamatsu]
I'm still training them but right now my main focus is trying to get 2.5 consistent but it's definitely in the works.

... on picking UCLA Bruins for college
I just really loved UCLA and I love Miss Val and the team and the location is pretty nice too. So that was definitely a big factor but I just love everything about it. It feels like home, a second home.

... on her favorite event
My favorite event is vault. Floor is definitely the closest to vault for favorite, they're up there, since it's more similar to tumbling.

... on her goals for 2015 and the future
My goals for this year would be to make National Team again and get more international assignments and more experience. Rio is definitely at the back of my mind. If it happens, that'd be great and if it doesn't, I'm just really grateful for this whole experience as an elite gymnast.

... to her fans
After Nationals, I was so overwhelmed with all the support and I just feel so grateful for everything.

... upgrades for 2015
I was working whip double layout on floor but I've been upgrading a lot. My floor, I have some new things, 3 new passes that I've never competed before. Beam is probably the same, maybe one or two upgrades. Bars, just competing bars is an upgrade! [laughs] Maybe not within the next 2 or 3 months [on competing the Amanar] but hopefully by Championships.

Thank you so much Kyla, Felicia, Denise, Lenny, and Jenny! I had an amazing time at Gym Max and wish all the athletes the best of luck in the future!


  1. Wow, what an amazing opportunity! Thank you so much for this fantastic article, I loved reading the interviews. Laney impresses me so much, I can't wait to see her compete. It's interesting to think about the similarities and differences between cheerleading and gymnastics. I love the Gym Max girls, they seem so sweet and appear to be really good friends, and of course Jenny and Howie are just awesome! :)

    1. Agree with everything you've said. The girls are all amazing and super supportive of each other. I had thought so much about the similarities between cheer and gym that I forgot about the differences - no bars, sure you can balance on a hand but walking a beam is different, hurdle technique, etc. It was all very interesting. Jenny and Howie are just amazing coaches! Actually all of the coaches there were really amazing and supportive!

  2. KYLAAAAA!!!! Every word she spoke was that of a true champion, especially her advice on not focusing on others because it distracts from real goals.

    1. She's amazing. Very focused and determined and wise!

  3. Thank you for this article!! It's really interesting to hear about the gym and I love hearing from Kyla about her plans and the reasons behind some of those plans. I can't wait to see her in 2015. Love her and impressed by her focus!!

    1. Thank you! Hope I gave a good picture of what was going on! :)

  4. I'd also like to say thanks for great article.

    A takeaway for me is how much perspective the Gym Max athletes have on their sport - it must be the awesome coaching, as it seem Howie and Jenny are doing a wonderful job playing to their athlete's strengths, the needs of the US team, protecting their athlete's from injury and mental burnout, and both long and short term goal setting. Sounds like an awesome environment to train.

    Thanks again

    1. It really was amazing! I do adult gymnastics so from time to time I was distracted by the younger kids working back handsprings :P It was amazing to see just the focus and attention that goes into every athlete and every skill from the coaches. Truly a great place!

  5. I love Kyla but if she doesn't do major upgrades Bailie and Simone could fall and she be perfect and she still won't be making the AA over them.

    There is no reason for her to quit on a new skill because she misses it the first day of competition but she has done that 2 years in a row at Nationals.

    As beautiful as her uneven bars and beam can be at this point she will have a hard time being relevant in a team situation if she doesn't upgrade.

    She is consistent and relatively clean which saved her this year but with all the talented juniors coming up in 2015 and 2016 she is going to be left behind without major upgrades on bars ( at least a 6.6) beam ( at least a 6.2) and floor (6.0) to even have a chance at making another AA or winning an individual medal.

    I am not saying this to be mean. Kyla is my favorite gymnast competing and I will be very sad if she gets left behind

    1. As I mentioned, Kyla is working quite a few upgrades and she's trying to do this while being as consistent as possible and protecting herself from injuries. I think we'll see some upgrades for 2015 but the main focus is and always has been 2016. I think you're in for some surprises so keep the faith!

  6. Kyla is my favourite gymnast. Her perfection and consistency has got her this far, Her start values worries me but I have to believe she has a plan...I'm rooting for her to win the olympic all around...However too big that dream sounds now with Simone and gabby and aly back and the amazing juniors bailey, Lauren, Nia, jazmyn, but I have faith in her..2016 is quite enough time for her to get to her best.

  7. So glad to hear Kyla is upgrading. Her line and form are amazing and the upgrades should keep her in all around contention. I can't wait to see her do the Bhardwaj. It will stand out in an endless sea of Shaposhnikovas. I get the impression that she a bit of a introvert which is great as introverts think things through.

    I'm kind of sad to hear she's getting new music. This current floor routine has kind of become her signature, esp. the little whip thing she does. I hope she keeps that part in :)

    Good luck Kyla. You'll be successful wherever you go to school. #RIO

    Great interview!

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