Staying flexible: Freshman gymnast balances sports, life


Courtesy of Sehba Ali

Ziya Ali leaps into the air to finish her routine.

Eshna Das, Staff Writer

As Ziya Ali reached for the bar, she wasn’t concerned about the panel of judges examining her every move. All that mattered to her was the feeling of flying. 

Ali, a freshman, started gymnastics when she lived in California. Her parents wanted the then 3-year-old to compete in a sport that would build her self-confidence and discipline.

When Ali moved to Houston in 2013, she started competing for Sugar Land Gymnastics. She quickly moved up age groups and eventually joined her first team: the Hope Team. 

Although gymnastics came easy to Ali, she sometimes learned skills at a slower pace than her teammates. But she didn’t let that trouble her. 

“Gymnastics taught me that I’m not always going to be the best but that it’s still worth it to work hard,” she said. 

Ali practiced multiple times a week and won her first tournament in fourth grade: the Region 3 Xcel Championships. 

Her mother, Sehba Ali, recalls her daughter’s victory: “Her eyes met mine, and I started to cry because I was so happy for her,” she said. 

Ali developed skills in the four events—vault, bars, beam, and floor—and became well-accomplished in her bar and beam routines. Yet, rather than winning, she prioritized enjoying the sport with her friends. 

“I realized that I love gymnastics because it makes me feel like I am part of something more,” Ali said. 

Since the start of her career, Ali has won 150 medals, 21 of which are gold, and is a Level Eight gymnast, one of the most difficult levels to achieve. She consistently goes to the gym, aiming to reach Level Ten gymnastics by her senior year. 

Along with gymnastics, Ali is part of Symphonic Winds and Les Chanteuses. Due to the pressure of high school, Ali almost decided to quit gymnastics. 

Yet she learned how to balance her time by prioritizing mental-health breaks, such as playing games on her computer and watching her favorite show, “Modern Family. “

“I think it was important to encourage her and remind her that she always gets it all done,” her mother said. 

Ali finds inspiration in professional gymnast Simone Biles’ career and keeps a poster of the Olympian on her wall. Although Biles’ accomplishments remind Ali to persevere, Biles’ prioritizing mental health during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics highlights what is most important for Ali.

“Mental health is a big deal for people in sports as they constantly have to push themselves physically and mentally, so we try to have fun on our way to competitions instead of thinking about the sport,” Ali’s mother said.  

Ali also encourages her teammates to focus on their well-being during competitions. “Ziya helps the whole team because of her kindness. She’s a person that we can all talk to about anything,” said Kallie Aparece-Aninzo, one of Ali’s fellow teammates.

Even with her prioritization of mental health, Ali has faced many mental obstacles during competitions. 

“I’ve fallen off the beam so many times in competitions, but every time, I have to remember to get back up,” Ali said.

Teaching other children about the importance of gymnastics, Ali is the youngest coach at her gym, where she teaches Level Two routines and skills, such as cartwheels and back rolls. 

Although Ali does not receive a salary nor volunteer hours for coaching, she hopes to motivate future gymnasts. 

“When I was younger, I always looked up to my coaches, and they are the only reason I got to where I am. So it is really empowering to do that for other kids,” Ali said.

Although Ali does not wish to compete at the Olympic level, she hopes to continue practicing and coaching for as long as possible. 

“Even when it’s hard, we have to keep going. Sometimes I’ll feel like I can never do gymnastics again, but there’s always a way,” she said.