Landing a back handspring back tuck on a four inch wide balance beam is nothing new to Olivia Priest. In fact, the North Kingstown junior and Level 9 gymnast has landed it many times throughout her gymnastics career – until she attempted the difficult skill during a routine practice at Aim High Academy at the start of the high school season. She lost her footing, fell off the beam and rolled her left ankle. She suffered a bad sprain, a few pulled ligaments and was placed in a boot.
Even with the boot, she kept up her daily routine and still went to the gym every day. She stretched, focused on her conditioning and watched her teammates practice their events as she sat on the sidelines.
She wasn’t planning to compete at all this season, but just three weeks after the clunky boot was removed, a determined Priest taped up her ankle and headed back to Rhode Island college. Priest showed no signs of a setback and turned in an outstanding all-around performance, and she was crowned the Rhode Island Individual State Champion for the second straight year.
“It felt amazing,” said Priest. “I didn’t even know if I was going to be able to compete this year, so being able to win again is an amazing feeling.”
It wasn’t easy.
— William Geoghegan (@RhodyWill) February 20, 2022
Since she was sidelined during the regular season, Priest hadn’t qualified for the state meet. In order to earn a spot in the state meet, Priest needed to score 32.5 (or better) in two regular season meets. When the boot was removed there were only two meets left in the season.
“I want to make All-State every year so I wanted to compete (at states),” said Priest, a National Honor Student who has earned All-State honors since she was a freshman. “We only had two meets left in the regular season so I knew I had to get it together. I just started doing some easier stuff on the beam, just so I could get a routine in and not be as scared to do it. It was still nerve wracking stepping back on the beam. I just needed to push myself so I could qualify. I knew I could do it.”
And she did. Priest turned in solid performances in both meets and earned a spot back in the state meet at Rhode Island College.
“I wasn’t sure if Liv would be ready to compete after being hurt this season so it was very exciting that Liv was able to recover in time to qualify for and compete in states,” said North Kingstown gymnastics coach IIana Shemkovitz. “She was able to water down routines in order to qualify and jump back quickly. That definitely has to do with the number of hours she commits to the gym and keeping up with conditioning and flexibility while she had to take a break from practicing the elements within her routines.
“Olivia works hard in and out of the gym,” added Shemkovitz. “Her attention to detail and corrections, the number of hours she’s in the gym, and natural talent leaves very little for the judges to take off in her routines and allows her to have high start values.”
As she prepared to compete in the state meet, Priest said she wasn’t thinking about repeating as the state champ.
“The goal was to just get on the podium. I wasn’t really expecting to win,” said Priest. “I was just happy to be competing again and with a bunch of my friends.”
Priest admits when she landed the vault, she felt a little bit of pain in her ankle that was wrapped tight in black tape. But she iced her ankle and remained focused and determined to stand on the podium as he prepared for the final rotation, the bars.
“I didn’t know I had to win bars. I knew I had to get a good score in order to have a chance at winning because the girl who came in second place I am really close with and I knew she was my toughest competition,” said Priest.
Priest was referring to state-runner up Barrington’s Shaye Robinson. The two used to train together at Aim High and remain good friends.
Priest saved her best performance of the day for last and wowed the crowd with her bar routine, scoring 9.7 to win the bars and in doing so, she headed back to the podium as the two-time state champion.
“I was so happy,” said Priest. “Since I wasn’t expecting to even compete this year, this was so amazing. .There was so much serotonin. It was really amazing.”
“Olivia’s ability to focus at competitions and perform under pressure is very impressive,” said Shemkovitz.
The two-time state champ and now three time All-Stater, will head to the New England Championships on March 12.
“My goal is to just go out and compete …that’s pretty much always my goal,” said Priest.