Follow Us On
IG Online Interview: Alyssa Baumann (USA/Florida)
(10 votes, average 4.00 out of 5)

Five-hundred fifty-five days after a freak fall derailed her dreams and delayed her plans, 2014 world championships gold medalist Alyssa Baumann (United States) will march out on the competition floor for the first time for the University of Florida. The freshman spoke with IG about the struggle and strength behind her incredible comeback to gymnastics.

Five-hundred fifty-five days after a freak fall derailed her dreams and delayed her plans, 2014 world championships gold medalist Alyssa Baumann (United States) will march out on the competition floor for the first time for the University of Florida. The freshman spoke with IG about the struggle and strength behind her incredible comeback to gymnastics.

Baumann on beam during team finals at the 2014 World Championships in Nanning, China, where she helped the U.S. women win the team gold medal

This evening, Baumann will resume her competitive career, this time as a member of the University of Florida team, which begins its season on the road against the University of West Virginia at WVU Coliseum in Morganville. The Dallas native, who will turn 20 in May, arrived in Gainesville last August one year later than planned, but is overjoyed to be back after undergoing major surgeries on both arms that required extensive and painful rehabilitation.

On June 29, 2016, 10 days before the U.S. Olympic Trials, Baumann was training on uneven bars at WOGA in Plano, Texas, where she began gymnastics at age 3. Baumann didn't catch the bar completely on a Shaposhnikova and fell hard, landing on her stomach and left arm.

Cécile Canqueteau-Landi, who had coached Baumann alongside her husband, Laurent Landi, since 2007, said she didn't realize what she had seen.

"It was scary and looked like a 'good' fall, but then she screamed and I ran to her," Canqueteau-Landi told IG. "She was looking at me, screaming 'NO!' and holding her elbow. Her elbow looked good, but she was in so much pain we knew something was wrong, but we had no idea how bad. A day later her mom called and all she said, in tears, was 'It's over.'"

Scans had revealed that Baumann had torn several ligaments and muscles in her elbow and needed immediate surgery. Her lifelong dream of competing for a spot on the Olympic team was not going to be realized. She shared the news on Instagram herself the next morning.

"This is obviously not how I wanted things to end, and I'm still in shock and completely devastated," she wrote. "I can't thank everyone enough for (their) support and for always believing me. My coaches have put absolutely everything into me and it kills me that I can't show off their hard work."

Canqueteau-Landi, who represented France at the 1996 Olympics, said Baumann pushed aside her pain to support clubmate Madison Kocian, who was favored to make the team to Rio if she hit at trials.

"It was a very difficult moment for all of us, but we had to rally for Maddie," Canqueteau-Landi recalled. "Alyssa was so supportive — it was amazing to see."

With beautiful extension, flexibility and artistry, Alyssa Baumann's gymnastics has long been amazing to see. She first shot to national attention in 2010 when, just shy of her 12th birthday, she won the all-around, bars and beam titles at the Level 9 Western National Championships. She made the leap to elite that summer, skipping Level 10 and qualifying to the U.S. junior national championships in Hartford, Connecticut. In December 2010, she traveled to Moscow to compete at the Voronin Cup, where she finished fifth all-around and fourth on bars and beam.

Baumann at the 2013 U.S. Junior Championships

Baumann's road was never an easy one, and every achievement came through hard work and belief in herself. Over the next five years, she fought her way through battles with injuries and illness, all while somehow steadily improving and upgrading her gymnastics from each competition to the next. After qualifying as an elite in 2010, injuries kept her out of competition the next two years, but she returned in 2013 to make the U.S. junior national team following a seventh-place finish in the all-around at the U.S. junior championships in Hartford. The next year, her first as a senior, she placed fourth all-around at the U.S. championships in Pittsburgh and won the silver medal on balance beam. Days later, a hyperextended elbow knocked her out of the Pan American championships in Canada, but Baumann fought through it once again.

Following a training camp in mid-September, Baumann earned a spot on the U.S. team to the 2014 World Championships in Nanning, China. The youngest member of the American team in Nanning, she competed three events in qualification (vault, beam and floor), scoring among the top 10 on vault and floor and in the top 15 on beam. In team finals, she was chosen as the leadoff gymnast on balance beam for the Americans, earning 14.500 for the second-best score for the team on that event behind Simone Biles' 14.966. The Americans trounced the Chinese by nearly 7 points to take the gold medal.

In 2015, Baumann finished seventh all-around at the U.S. Classic in July and national championships in August. Following a training camp, she was named a non-traveling alternate to the world championships in Glasgow. What few knew was how rough of a year she had had. Chronic illness, including bouts of bronchitis and mononucleosis, left her barely able to train. But she didn't bounce back like a healthy teenager, and she was too fatigued to even flex her muscles. Eventually, further tests revealed she had a chronic condition called Celiac disease (gluten-sensitive enteropathy), an allergy to gluten that triggers an immune response, which can cause severe exhaustion, headaches, joint pain, anemia and many other symptoms.

Baumann reclaimed her health with a special diet and was ready to go all out in 2016. In June, she finished third all-around and second on balance beam and floor exercise at the U.S. Classic. Two weeks later at the U.S. championships, she had a solid competition. She missed her toe-hecht on bars on the first day and stumbled back out of bounds on floor exercise on the second day, but hit cleanly elsewhere to place a solid seventh, easily qualifying to the U.S. Olympic Trials two weeks later in San Jose, California.

"Had so much fun competing tonight and the journey continues...OLYMPIC TRIALS BOUND!!!" Baumann tweeted on June 26. "So excited for this amazing opportunity!"

The next part of the plan was to peak in San Jose. With four solid, clean events and world championship experience under her belt, Baumann had a chance of making the U.S. team to Rio de Janeiro or earning one of three spots as an alternate. Whatever the outcome at trials, the way from San Jose would ultimately end up in Gainesville in August to join the Florida Gators gymnastics team, fulfilling another long-term goal.

Baumann with coaches Laurent Landi and Cécile Canqueteau-Landi following the 2014 World Championships

Neither plan was realized. The fall changed everything, including Baumann. After undergoing major reconstructive surgery on her left elbow, it did not take long to realize what lay ahead and that trying to recover in time for the spring of 2017, while attending classes full time, was not realistic. On July 15, she announced she was going to defer for one year to recover completely. That August, she watched the Olympics on TV and cheered for the Americans in Rio, especially Kocian, who helped the U.S. win the team gold medal and then won an individual silver on uneven bars.

On August 31, Baumann underwent a second surgery on her right wrist to fix an issue that had pained her for some time. The rest of 2016 was spent in rehabilitation therapy, devoted to healing an injured body and injured soul, fighting the frustration and pain while finding light in the darkness. Still limited, she returned to WOGA in January 2017, a world champion unable to do a handstand, a kip, a chin-up or even a back tuck. The new plan was to be 100 percent ready for today, in January 2018, when Florida begins its new season. It would be several more months before she was medically cleared to start training full-time.

It was a struggle Baumann documented in October for her Educational Technology course. She chose to tell her own story for a video assignment, showing training footage of her slowly coming back, improving a little bit every day and never giving up. She got an A. (Her younger sister, Rachel Baumann, a former elite who competed Level 10 last year and who has committed to Georgia, also made a montage dedicated to Alyssa's comeback.)

"She came back slowly to the gym, and it was hard, but she had new goals, which was to be the best for Florida," said Canqueteau-Landi, who along with her husband is now coaching Biles and other gymnasts in Houston. "I'm so proud of her and how determined she was and is! I can't wait to see her compete and shine!"

Baumann's unique shine is apparent from a quick visit to her official website,, which is noticeably different than the typical gymnast website. She maintains a blog, but there's no photo gallery or links to videos yet. Instead, she has a gallery of her favorite inspirational quotes, and a section about Celiac disease to help educate others about a condition that frequently goes undiagnosed. "I hope to help people overcome their own obstacles by seeing what I did to come back from my injuries and illnesses," she explains in a note on the front page.

At Florida, Baumann has been in good hands under Jenny Ester Rowland, who is in her third year as head coach. Rowland, an alternate on the 1989 U.S. world team, was forced to retire from elite gymnastics because of a serious back injury, but came back to compete in college. The team's assistant coaches are Adrian Burde, a former Romanian team member who coaches vault and tumbling; and Owen Field, who coaches bars. Florida is ranked No. 2 behind reigning national champion Oklahoma in the preseason coaches poll.

Baumann found time to catch up with IG as she traveled to West Virginia. She opened up about her long recovery, the importance of self-care and self-confidence, where she sees herself in Florida's deep lineup, and some unexpected adventures her time off afforded her.

IG: Alyssa, first of all, congratulations on your comeback! You look amazing in all the training videos. A lot of fans may not know that you also had surgery on your right wrist. What was the recovery like for that? Is your right wrist much better than before the surgery?

AB: Thank you very much. That surgery was an ulnar osteotomy. Basically, I had a piece of my ulna taken out because the bone was too long and was taking pressure that it shouldn't be. They put in a plate and six screws (which are still in my arm).

The recovery for that was actually very rough. For the first part of that recovery, my arm wasn't healing. When I first started running, one of my screws began to back out. To avoid another surgery, I had to go a while without any sort of physical activity. That was extremely difficult for me, as I haven't ever been that restricted in my career. It finally started healing once I stopped moving it and now that it is fully healed, it feels much better than before.

Baumann following her second surgery on her right arm

IG: Recovering from elbow surgery is really hard for any athlete but especially for a gymnast. How long did it take before you were able to fully straighten your arm? When were you first able to put weight on it?

AB: I had full range four months post-op (end of October). I was able to start weight bearing a little after I had full range, but because of complications with my second surgery (wrist) I waited until I was about six months out to start weight bearing. I was released after nine months, but was careful until I was 12 months out.

IG: After your surgeries, did you take a few months off from the gym while just doing physical rehab, or did you still go to do any leg conditioning or whatever you could? When were you able to return to full-time training?

AB: I took the first couple months off completely while I was first recovering from my elbow surgery. For a long time I was doing several hours of therapy every day — that was my main focus. The next couple months after that I went in a few times a week to do what conditioning I could and stay mentally in the gym. I would go over my skills mentally because I think that can be just as beneficial as doing the skills. I returned to full training after I was released from both my wrist and elbow, around May.

IG: You have video of you attempting a handstand and not getting very close. That must have been so frustrating and painful. Did you ever have any doubts that you would fully be able to come back on all four events?

AB: Coming back from these injuries was unlike anything I have ever done before. I couldn't do very basic skills such as a kip or handstand. It was very frustrating, especially since I am a perfectionist. Luckily, I had people, like Laurent and Cécile, who were there to support me and remind me that it would be a slow process and to be patient. Even though the doctors and many people around me told me that I probably wouldn't be able to do everything that I was able to do before, I never thought that. I believed in myself more than anyone else and knew that I could do it.

IG: What you went through in 2016 must have been a psychological trauma as much of a physical one. Everything changed in an instant, but you had to forge ahead with the unexpected, very difficult challenge of recovering physically while dealing with your disappointment. Can you tell us some things that helped you cope? For example, were there any particular books, songs or quotes that inspired you, or really good advice you got that you'd like to share?

AB: These injuries were just as mentally challenging as they were physically. My whole life was changed, I went from training for the Olympics to not being able to do basic activities. During this time I realized that I couldn't control what had happened, but I could control how I handled the situation. I chose to set a new goal for myself, to overcome this obstacle and inspire other gymnasts/athletes to never give up. I watched lots of motivational videos and read many quotes to get me through this time. Shortly after I injured my elbow I posted a quote on Instagram that really helped me. It said that unexpected things are always going to happen in life and the only thing we can control is how we handle them.

Some advice I want to give is, especially in rehab, to focus on your everyday accomplishments, which helps keep you motivated and moving forward. Recognize your progress, look at what you did today that you couldn't necessarily do yesterday or last week. Most of all, you cannot control the things in life that might happen but you can control how you chose to deal with them.

Baumann with Aly Raisman and Maggie Nichols during their May vacation to Turks and Caicos

IG: Since you deferred your enrollment to recover completely, you did get a "bonus" year at home to train with Cécile and Laurent, and your sister Rachel, but not under any pressure from the elite schedule or academics. Did you get to do anything fun in your downtime? How often did you check in with your future coaches (and teammates) at Florida?

AB: I took many trips and went on vacations that I could never do before. I visited Simone for New Years, I visited Florida in the fall and again in February, I went to California, and in May I went to Turks and Caicos with Sydney Ewing, Maggie Nichols, and Aly Raisman. That was my favorite trip. It was great to be able to spend time with my close friends outside of gymnastics. We got to do so many fun things including snorkeling, jet skiing, and horseback riding in the ocean. Also, before I came to school I went to Boston to see Aly.

I checked in with my coaches often to let them know how my recovery was going. My teammates at Florida also would check in on me and ask how things were going with rehab. I kept up with all their meets and I am happy to finally be a part of the Florida family.

IG: You committed to Florida when you were 14. What led you to decide on Florida? Is there any aspect of being a collegiate gymnast that has surprised you, or was it an easy transition from elite to NCAA?

AB: There are so many reasons why I loved Florida. Florida's combination of great academics and athletics is almost unbeatable. Also, I fell in love with the atmosphere when I visited the campus. For me, it was a fairly easy decision and even though I committed when I was so young, I haven't regretted it a day since.

The only thing that was different about college gymnastics is the emphasis on conditioning, and I think that will be essential to be able to make it through a season that is much longer than what I'm used to.

IG: You're about to return to competition for the first time in 18 months and you look great. On which events do you feel you can contribute to Florida's lineup this season?

AB: I feel like I can contribute on beam and floor right away, and hope to be contributing on bars and vault by mid- or post-season. The coaches and I are trying to be smart about bars and vault so that I don't rush anything or risk any injuries. I'm excited to be competing this season as it has been so long since I last competed and I overcame a lot to get to this point.

IG: You deferred a year to properly rehab your injuries because you wanted to be 100 percent for Florida. Do you feel you've reached that goal? If so, what is the next goal ahead of you?

AB: Deferring a year was not an easy decision, but I feel like it was the best one. I do feel like I reached that goal of being 100 percent for Florida. By staying home and focusing on rehab I am in a much better place now and I'm ready to give everything I have to this team.

My new goal is to do everything possible so that I give my team every opportunity to win our meets. Also, I want to enjoy gymnastics more than I ever have before. This Florida team is special and I expect that we will accomplish big things this year.

Update: Baumann competed two events in her NCAA debut Friday evening to help the Florida Gators top West Virginia, 195.90-194.425 . She scored 9.900 on balance beam (tied for first) and 9.750 on floor exercise (sixth).

Baumann performing a Shaposhnikova on bars in December 2017 during an intrasquad competition for the Florida Gators
Comments (0)add comment

Write comment

security image
Write the displayed characters