When senior gymnast Natalie Yang injured her right toe in 2011, she was reluctant to let herself take time off of gymnastics to recover.
“I really just didn’t want to stop doing gym, so I just took a lot of Advil and pushed through the pain,” she said. “That did not work out too well.”
Because she continued practicing on an injured toe, she eventually required a second surgery.
“I was sidelined the whole time I was recovering, which was hard because all my friends were learning new skills and going to the next level, and I had to stay back for that period of time and I was unable to train,” she said. “After surgery, I was on crutches and had a boot for six weeks. Then I was allowed to slowly go back to doing gymnastics.”
Yang has been devoted to competitive gymnastics for the past 13 years of her life.
“I, for the most part, train five hours a day, five days a week,” she said.
Yang is currently a Junior National Level 10 gymnast, the highest level in the USA Gymnastics Junior Olympics, and competes at San Mateo Gymnastics in Belmont. She competes from the beginning of January to late spring, mainly in Northern California.
Despite being a top-level gymnast, at competitions Yang focuses on performing her best, not the awards.
“I have won, I don’t even remember [how many times],” she said. “I get first on beam at meets. I honestly don’t even pay attention to that stuff.”
Given the extensive hours gymnasts spend training in the gym, time management is crucial, but Yang claims that this skill has always come naturally for her.
“That’s always what was expected of me, to balance between going to gym and keeping my grades up,” she said. “So it has been natural and normal for me.”
Yang balances a rigorous courseload this year in addition to gymnastics.
This devotion and work ethic has led Yang to achieve her lifelong goal of continuing gymnastics in college. In March, she committed to the University of Pennsylvania.
“That has been my goal for the longest time, to compete in college,” she said.
Penn first expressed interest in Yang during her junior year.
“They came to the gym to watch my friend who was interested in Penn, and they kind of scout anybody else for whatever year they need,” she said. “They sent me an email, then we kind of just kept in touch.”
Yang said that committing to Penn was her greatest gymnastics career achievement.
“It was so exciting,” she said. “Just to have them offer me a spot and to accept that, that was one of the best feelings in the world. It made me so happy. It was also very humbling, too.”
Yang said that being committed to a school has significantly eased the stress of senior year.
“Originally I was going to do other apps to other schools,” she said. “I got my Likely Letter from Penn, so I didn’t end up applying.”
Yang plans to go on a Pre-Med track at Penn in the fall.
“I’ve spent a lot of time going to doctors appointments and doing physical therapy. I’ve kind of become more interested in what my doctors tell me as I’ve gotten older,” she said. “I think it would be really cool to help other athletes since I can relate to what they might be going through.”
In such a demanding sport, Yang finds the support of her family to be essential.
“They do anything for me,” she said. “They make sure that I have a good balance of fun.”
Natalie’s sister, freshman Veronica Yang, notes that her family has made significant sacrifices for her sister to continue gymnastics.
“She’s always in her room finishing up work because she gets home late,” Veronica Yang said. “We only eat dinner together maybe once or twice a week during the weekdays.”
Despite this, the sisters still find time to spend with each other.
“She always takes me to Starbucks on Thursdays,” Veronica Yang said.
Along with her family, Natalie Yang finds that her support comes from her friends, both gymnastics teammates and friends from school.
Senior Madison Dagen, who attends Foothill High School, has been teammates with Yang for five years.
“Being teammates, seeing each other pretty much every day, we have gotten so close,” Dagen said. “She’s pretty much never ever in a bad mood and it’s so nice having a teammate who’s always so upbeat and ready for anything.”
In addition, Yang appreciates that her school friends have been understanding of the sacrifices she makes for gymnastics.
“Sometimes because of my gym schedule, I can’t hang out with them all the time,” she said. “My friends here are so understanding and supportive, and they get excited for me when I have a good gym day or something like that.”
Yang notes that gymnastics has taught her many life lessons.
“I think [in gymnastics], you have to have a lot of discipline and drive, and self-motivation,” she said.