In Simone Biles' path, a fearless young gymnast learns new 2020 routine

REUTERS
·4 min read

Ty-La Morris has always been special.

She was "a little older than one" when she crawled to the edge of her bed and did the splits, according to her mother, Likisha McCormick, and was 3 years old when she mastered the cartwheel, able to flip around the length of a football field.

PHOTO: Gymnast Ty-La Morris, 12, trains at the Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics Foundation in New York, Feb. 22, 2020. (Idris Solomon/Reuters)
PHOTO: Gymnast Ty-La Morris, 12, trains at the Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics Foundation in New York, Feb. 22, 2020. (Idris Solomon/Reuters)

"I used to tell my coworkers every day and they all kept saying, put her in gymnastics. I'm like, I can't afford gymnastics.

Gymnastics is very expensive," said McCormick, who lives with Ty-La in New Windsor, more than an hour north of New York City.

PHOTO: Gymnast Ty-La Morris, 13, and her mother Likisha McCormick prepare to deliver gifts, at their home in New Windsor, N.Y., Dec. 15, 2020. (Idris Solomon/Reuters)
PHOTO: Gymnast Ty-La Morris, 13, and her mother Likisha McCormick prepare to deliver gifts, at their home in New Windsor, N.Y., Dec. 15, 2020. (Idris Solomon/Reuters)

Raw talent met opportunity two years ago when Ty-La, who is now 13, began classes at the Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics Foundation, which offers free and discounted classes for children in Detroit and in New York -- and is now fighting to serve hundreds of students amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

PHOTO: Gymnast Ty-La Morris, 12, trains at the Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics Foundation, which offers free and discounted classes for children in Detroit and in New York, in N.Y., Jan 24, 2020. (Idris Solomon/Reuters)
PHOTO: Gymnast Ty-La Morris, 12, trains at the Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics Foundation, which offers free and discounted classes for children in Detroit and in New York, in N.Y., Jan 24, 2020. (Idris Solomon/Reuters)

"Trying to keep these kids together has been what I've been working the hardest to do," said founder Wendy Hilliard, a Hall of Fame rhythmic gymnast, who rolled out "Zoom" classes as the pandemic sent families indoors and later found spaces across the New York City metro area for her students, including a tennis court in the Bronx and a gym in Yonkers.

PHOTO: Wendy Hilliard, a Hall of Fame rhythmic gymnast and founder of the Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics Foundation and Zariah Hayes watch gymnasts at the gymnastics foundation in New York, Dec. 2, 2019. (Idris Solomon/Reuters)
PHOTO: Wendy Hilliard, a Hall of Fame rhythmic gymnast and founder of the Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics Foundation and Zariah Hayes watch gymnasts at the gymnastics foundation in New York, Dec. 2, 2019. (Idris Solomon/Reuters)

Throughout the year, she's fought to find those facilities for her students to keep them competitive and in shape, as more affluent private gyms that serve predominantly white communities have the resources to stay open.

PHOTO: Wendy Hilliard, a Hall of Fame rhythmic gymnast and founder of the Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics Foundation, consoles gymnast Chelsea Taylor Moore during The Harlem Gymnastics Invitational competition at the foundation in New York, Feb. 22, 2020. (Idris Solomon/Reuters)
PHOTO: Wendy Hilliard, a Hall of Fame rhythmic gymnast and founder of the Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics Foundation, consoles gymnast Chelsea Taylor Moore during The Harlem Gymnastics Invitational competition at the foundation in New York, Feb. 22, 2020. (Idris Solomon/Reuters)

"I'm so frustrated that the priority - you know, if you have money, stuff like that, you can have your kids do these extra activities and other kids can't if they're urban kids or they don't have the spaces," said Hilliard. "We've been trying to navigate that part."

PHOTO: Gymnasts Comora Johnson, Rielle Taitt-Lance and Londyn Morris embrace during The Harlem Gymnastics Invitational competition at the Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics Foundation in New York, Feb. 22, 2020. (Idris Solomon/Reuters)
PHOTO: Gymnasts Comora Johnson, Rielle Taitt-Lance and Londyn Morris embrace during The Harlem Gymnastics Invitational competition at the Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics Foundation in New York, Feb. 22, 2020. (Idris Solomon/Reuters)

For Ty-La, a fearless tumbling and trampoline gymnast who dreams of attending UCLA, the COVID-19 pandemic has meant adapting to a social life on Zoom after the coronavirus shattered daily routines.

"They were having their regular meeting times (online) every day, even though it's probably just stretching or whatever," said McCormick. "The first time they had a meeting at a gym, they were just ecstatic to see each other. They were overjoyed. And I'm like, this hurts because they're really close."

PHOTO: Gymnast Comora Johnson trains at the Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics Foundation, which offers free and discounted classes for children in Detroit and in New York, in New York, Jan. 24, 2020. (Idris Solomon/Reuters)
PHOTO: Gymnast Comora Johnson trains at the Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics Foundation, which offers free and discounted classes for children in Detroit and in New York, in New York, Jan. 24, 2020. (Idris Solomon/Reuters)

She draws her inspiration from Gabby Douglas, the 2012 Olympic all-around champion, and earned the nickname "Gabby" from her former cheer squad.

"She would tell me, 'Oh, mom, I'm going to the Olympics. I'm going to buy you a house, car and everything is going to be good. I'm going to the Olympics," said McCormick.

PHOTO: Gymnasts train at the Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics Foundation in New York, Dec. 20, 2019. (Idris Solomon/Reuters)
PHOTO: Gymnasts train at the Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics Foundation in New York, Dec. 20, 2019. (Idris Solomon/Reuters)

Ty-La, who said she's also drawn comparisons to 2016 Olympic champion Simone Biles, said a "full" -- a tumbling move where a gymnast flips backwards and twists -- was her favorite move that she's learned through her classes at Wendy Hilliard Foundation.

She's also formed rock-solid bonds there with other students.

PHOTO: Gymnast Ty-La Morris, 12, prepares to train via a Zoom call at her home during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in New Windsor, N.Y., May 22, 2020. (Idris Solomon/Reuters)
PHOTO: Gymnast Ty-La Morris, 12, prepares to train via a Zoom call at her home during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in New Windsor, N.Y., May 22, 2020. (Idris Solomon/Reuters)

"We are very close. We (are) like brothers and sisters," said Ty-La, who does abdominal workouts and push-ups to stay fit at home, on top of the instructional videos posted online by the Wendy Hilliard Foundation.

She's picked up new skills during 2020, despite the numerous hurdles that come with training in the middle of a pandemic, learning how to do a front full, double backs and more.

"I just always wanted to do gymnastics because I just love to flip," said Ty-La, "And now I'm doing it."

PHOTO: Gymnast Ty-La Morris, 13, wears a protective face mask as she trains at the Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics Foundation in N.Y., Dec. 7, 2020. (Idris Solomon/Reuters)
PHOTO: Gymnast Ty-La Morris, 13, wears a protective face mask as she trains at the Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics Foundation in N.Y., Dec. 7, 2020. (Idris Solomon/Reuters)

Athletes like Douglas and Biles ushered in an era where Black excellence in gymnastics has been front-and-center for Ty-La and aspiring gymnasts her age, said Hilliard, who was the first African-American woman to represent the United States Rhythmic Gymnastics team.

And in a year where Biles' Olympic dreams were postponed, it was her candor outside of the gym -- opening up about her mental health and wellness -- that once again lit a path.

PHOTO: Gymnast Ty-La Morris, 12, trains at her home during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in New Windsor, in N.Y., May 22, 2020. (Idris Solomon/Reuters)
PHOTO: Gymnast Ty-La Morris, 12, trains at her home during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in New Windsor, in N.Y., May 22, 2020. (Idris Solomon/Reuters)

"Seeing her be so strong was very helpful because it was like even the greatest gymnast in the world is struggling," said Hilliard. "You know, the time is different for us. You can sit up and take off six months a year and move on. But a kid who's like nine years old a year is so long."

PHOTO: Gymnast Ty-La Morris, 12, trains at the Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics Foundation in New York, Feb. 22, 2020. (Idris Solomon/Reuters)
PHOTO: Gymnast Ty-La Morris, 12, trains at the Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics Foundation in New York, Feb. 22, 2020. (Idris Solomon/Reuters)

In Simone Biles' path, a fearless young gymnast learns new 2020 routine originally appeared on abcnews.go.com