An Encinitas girl scored a perfect 10 at the Arizona Grand Invitational gymnastics competition earlier this month.
Natalie Siljander, 8, performed tricks like a handstand, leap split jump and cartwheel to earn the rare, coveted score at the event held Jan. 12 through Jan. 15 at the Arizona Grand Resort in Phoenix.
“I was just trying my hardest, and I was really surprised when the score came up,” said the fourth grader at Flora Vista Elementary School during a recent interview at the Magdalena Ecke YMCA in Carlsbad, where she has been practicing gymnastics since she was 2. “It was nice that I finally got what I wanted.”
Quin Shannon, gymnastics director at the Magdalena Ecke YMCA, said he has been coaching for 35 years and has never had a gymnast score a perfect 10 before Natalie.
He said the routine — which Natalie did at level four — had to be done precisely in order to score a 10.
“For her to do that routine as perfect as those judges have ever seen, it is phenomenal,” he said. “We kind of knew Natalie was capable of it because she would score 9.3 and fall off the beam. She’s exceptional.”
Natalie, who practices gymnastics 16 hours a week and ballet two hours a week, said she wants to be a professional gymnast when she grows up and hopes to compete in the Olympics someday.
Wendy Margowski, head women’s compulsory coach at the Magdalena Ecke YMCA, said Natalie’s score is proof of her hard work and determination.
“She has always had a natural talent to perform, but over the past year she has made great strides in not only working on her skills and routines but increasing her strength and endurance,” said Margowski, who has been working with Natalie for the last three years. “Her beam routine at the Arizona Grand Invitational was absolutely beautiful and an honor to witness.”
Natalie’s mother, Susan Siljander — who began teaching Natalie gymnastics at the center as a toddler — said she considers her daughter to have focus and drive that are not common for children her age.
“When she was 2, I told her that every time she lifted her foot off the ground she needed to point her toes,” Susan Siljander said. “She got it. I never had to tell her again. ... She has drive, focus and determination. All I have had to do is explain what she needs to do to be great, and she does it.”