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Olympic Dreams: Making an Olympian

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Olympic Dreams: Making an Olympian

What it really takes to become an Olympic champion

August 18, 2016

As the 2016 Summer Olympics wrap up in Rio, young athletes around the world dream of competing in future games. Twelve-year-old rhythmic gymnast Lennox Hopkins is one of them. Hopkins has been training and performing rhythmic gymnastics since age 6. And she’s good. Really good.

Video: Lennox Hopkins performing at 11 years old

This summer, Hopkins placed in the top 30 in the country at the 2016 National Qualifier Competition, where she qualified for level 10, which is the highest level in rhythmic. She also won the national championship in the dance category this year.

Hopkins grew up dancing alongside older sister Hayden, who is an accomplished dancer. So, when Hopkins got started with rhythmic, it came naturally to her.Lennox Hopkins stretching.

“Since I had always danced and [dance] is a big part of rhythmic too, it really helped me, but I really did have to improve my handling skills. But overall, I really loved it and I think I just love it even more now,” says Hopkins.

Her coach, Olga Niculita, has been with Hopkins from the beginning.

“A gymnast like her only comes once in a coach’s life,” says Niculita. “Lennox is very passionate about rhythmic gymnastics.... She’s a really good dancer, she’s a good problem-solver.”

Lennox Hopkins with her coach, Olga Niculita.

In addition to her talent, it’s clear that this girl also has buckets of determination. 

“I train around four to five days a week, for three hours every day, and I take a lot of ballet. But, you can always do more and I really like to practice at home in my backyard. That really adds to my practice time.”

Lennox Hopkins practicing ballet.

So how does a 12-year-old old manage all of that and still get her homework done on time?

“I’m a pretty good person about managing my time,” says Hopkins. “Doing homework at school — if you have study hall or something like that — is really important, rather than staying up till 1 a.m. doing it and being exhausted the next day.”

But this level of commitment isn’t a solo act; nurturing an Olympic dream takes a village.

I don’t think I’ve ever had a time where I just wanted to give up, because I think that’s how much I love this sport. I never want to give up and I never want to quit.

“What keeps me motivated to keep going and keep working hard is my family and how hard they work for me to do what I want to do. My family has always supported me — especially my mom. My mom is my best friend. Without them, I don’t think I would be where I am today, or have accomplished as much as I have at a young age,” reflects Hopkins. 

Hopkins’ mom, Carmen, works double-time to support each of her daughters’ dreams.

“Our family life is really centered around Lennox’s practices and her commitments. She misses birthday parties and school functions, but at the end of the day she really loves gym and she’s gained so much confidence and has incredible opportunities.... So, for us, it’s a sacrifice that’s worthwhile.”

Hopkins is also motivated by love and support from her sister, who has also been successful with her dance career.

Lennox Hopkins.

“She just always gets me and I always love to be around her. My biggest inspiration is my sister because of how well she has done in her career. Seeing how hard she worked and her drive to do what she wanted to do really helps me focus on what I want to do.”

Hopkins has her eyes set on the 2024 Olympics. She says that by then, she’ll be older and better-suited to compete in the most prestigious competition in the world.

“If I ended up at the Olympics one day, I would feel a lot of emotions. I think there’d be tears — all of this hard work, years and years of hard work — and all that dedication going into that one moment would just be amazing,” she says.

Hopkins has a difficult road ahead of her. But her superhuman level of motivation will certainly aid her in achieving her dreams.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had a time where I just wanted to give up, because I think that’s how much I love this sport. I never want to give up and I never want to quit.”


Jen Germain

Jen Germain is a media producer with the Creative Services team at Cascade Public Media, helping to drive brand and programming initiatives. Previously, Jen worked as a producer with Spark Public, where she helped lead digital strategy and mentor a team of millennial multimedia journalists. Find her on Twitter @jengermain. 

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