Gymnast Kyla Ross enjoying her new routine at UCLA
Chalk flies through the air as a gymnast prepares for an uneven bars routine, sometimes mixing in a crucial spray of water to assist in creating just the right grip -- a grip that allows the athlete a tight hold until the ideal moment.
Olympic gold-medal winning gymnast Kyla Ross, 20, knows about the correct timing of letting go. She made the choice, ahead of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, to no longer hold on to the dream of making Team USA.
"In 2016, I was coming back from some minor injuries," Ross said. "I realized that I didn't have the same passion and motivation as I did going into 2012."
Last February, Ross wrote a post on her Facebook stating she was retiring from elite gymnastics, the ultra-competitive international circuit she had taken part in since she was 12.
"I was either going to go for it all out, or just decide to get ready for college and pursue a different dream. I decided to put my focus on getting ready for school."
Back in 2012, Ross represented not only the United States in London, helping the "Fierce Five" win gold, but also, as the youngest, she was considered the future of the team. Unlike Gabby Douglas and other team members, Ross didn't take any break after the London Games.
"I have read before that it takes about a year for an Olympian to emotionally recharge, just going from the Olympics to all the appearances," said UCLA gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field.
In addition to expectations and injuries, Ross had to deal with simple growing pains, adding over four inches to her height.
"She went from 5-2 to 5-7," said Kondos Field. "She never complained."
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Still, Ross had great success in her elite career, winning the all-around silver medal at the 2013 World Championships and the all-around bronze medal at the 2014 World Championships.
When the Fierce Five competed in London, Douglas' achievements as an African-American gymnast were celebrated. Ross' heritage, however, was often overlooked. Ross' father is African-American and Japanese. Her mother is Filipina, white and Puerto Rican.
"Some people might be misled and think I'm only Asian," Ross acknowledged. "I have a lot of ethnicities."
In Rio, when Laurie Hernandez was hailed by many as the first Hispanic Team USA gymnast to win gold, it was Ross' own roots that were missed by some.
"I'm only an eighth (Puerto Rican)," said Ross, unruffled by the omission.
Not everyone in her family was so forgiving, "My relatives that are full Puerto Rican -- they were like, 'Oh, no!' and searching articles," confirmed Ross.
Like Hernandez, Ross doesn't speak Spanish, but she keeps a strong connection to her diverse family. "It's fun to visit other places and see where my relatives came from."
In how she self-identifies, Ross insists on proudly holding on to all the elements of her heritage, "I claim that I'm very mixed. I'm able to get a sense of all the cultures."
Unlike Hernandez, who used her Olympic stardom as a springboard to a meteoric rise in the public eye via winning "Dancing With The Stars," Ross snubbed the professional route, retaining her NCAA eligibility to enroll at UCLA.
If we go out and perform how we can, we have a shot.
- Olympic medalist, UCLA gymnast Kyla Ross
"Kyla's great in front of the camera, but she's not really about that glitz and glamour," Kondos Field noted. "She wants to be an engineer."
"I wasn't too tempted to go pro after London, because I was still very young," Ross admitted. "I knew that after I finished elite gymnastics I always wanted to go to a good university and compete in collegiate gymnastics."
With Olympic competition in her rear-view, Ross is focused on helping UCLA chase a national championship.
"If we go out and perform how we can, we have a shot."
College gymnastics retains the scoring of the past, allowing Ross to finally enjoy a Nadia Comaneci moment -- scoring a perfect 10.
"First time in my career," said Ross of the milestone, which came on the uneven bars at a meet in Oregon. "I was super-excited and filled with emotion, because I just felt all the love from all my teammates."
Ross has since posted three more perfect scores, including a historic 10 on beam during the Pac-12 Championship. Ross also won the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year award.
"I'm enjoying myself so much," Ross said. "It's been such a fun season."
Only one gymnast of Rio’s "Final Five" gold-medal winning team retains NCAA eligibility -- coincidentally Ross' UCLA teammate, Madison Kocian. This season, the duo became the first Olympic gymnastics gold medalists to compete at the collegiate level.
"School is super-important to both of them," said Kondos Field.
"Some of the other girls, they're on different paths in their lives," observed Ross of her pro gymnast friends. "They're happy with what they decided."
The NCAA Women's Gymnastics National Championships will take place in St. Louis, Missouri, April 14-15. This season, UCLA has ranked as high as No. 3 nationally.
For Kondos Field, what makes Ross remarkable as a gymnast isn't merely the discipline that produces occasional perfection, but something else many people will never see.
"When she messes up, she doesn't let down for one second. You can tell she's disappointed, but she's the first person to go to her teammates and say, 'Guys, I'm sorry.' Then she goes to the next teammate in line and looks them in the eye with that beautiful smile, fist bumps them and says, 'I know you've got this.'"
Whatever the outcome for UCLA, it's clear that Ross, at peace with letting go, has stuck her landing in college gymnastics.