Olympic hopeful from Naperville dresses for success
In one of the busiest weeks of her young life, Mackenzie Caquatto had to stop and see how she looked in her new gymnastics leotards and warmup clothes.
When the colors are red, white and blue, and the letters "USA" are stitched on, even preparations for the upcoming Olympic Trials can wait just a little.
"I spent a good 30 minutes yesterday looking at my leos in the mirror," Caquatto said with a guilty-pleasure laugh.
Competing June 5-7 at the Visa Championships in Boston, where she placed 10th, Caquatto not only earned one of 19 berths at the Olympic Trials in Philadelphia on June 19-22, she also secured a spot on the senior national team. Even if she isn't one of the nine women traveling to China in August for the Summer Olympics, there are plenty of road trips in the 16-year-old's future.
"My goal was to make it on national team and I did, so I was happy," said Caquatto, a Naperville Central junior-to-be taking a break from training at Aerial Gymnastics Club in Downers Grove. "It was like a dream come true. I've always wanted to get to the Olympic Trials and get this far."
"The experience that she's getting from this whole thing is just (the experience of) a lifetime," added Patrice McPherson, who both coaches Caquatto and owns Aerial with her husband, Don. "It's wonderful."
The McPhersons are coaching Caquatto not to get too excited about the Trials or the invitation to the national training center near Houston that will follow the Trials if she does well enough. That is where the final decision will be made on which athletes will go to China.
USA Gymnastics has a deep roster, said Kathy Kelly, vice president for programs, but Caquatto has a good shot at making the cut.
"She's an up-and-coming newcomer and I think she did very well handling all the pressure" in Boston, Kelly said. "It will season her and certainly make her a stronger and better athlete. We're thrilled that some of the young ones stepped up to the plate."
"I'm keeping it in perspective, taking each day as it comes, because then you look at the final result. You don't want to overwhelm her," Patrice McPherson said. "As of right now I'm thrilled with what she's achieved. She's worked very hard for what she has, and being a national team member is huge. She's going to get this experience, so she has a lot more gymnastics in her."
Caquatto started gymnastics at age 2, going to a mom-and-me class with her mother, Lin. But it was while watching the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta that Caquatto really caught the gymnastics bug and decided to dedicate herself to the sport. She was 4 years old.
"Oh my gosh, this has been her dream her whole life," Lin Caquatto said. "Her goals are being attained right now."
Caquatto qualified for the Trials as an all-arounder, but says she enjoys the beam the most because "it's daring."
"She's a pretty good, solid all-arounder, which is pretty hard to do these days," Kelly said, noting that most gymnasts tend to specialize in one or two events. "That's an asset."
Her coach prefers her on the floor exercise and admires Caquatto's competitive streak.
"She's always been a competitor, even when she was in the compulsory level," Patrice McPherson said. "She just sparkled. When she gets out on the floor, that really is her specialty. I know she loves beam. But just her presence in the competitive arena is amazing. She just brightens up and everything looks better. She just pulls it all together and that's her motivation.
"She loves competition. There are athletes that love working out and they don't like competition, and then there's Mackenzie. She works very hard, but it's not always the most pleasant thing. And when she gets out on the floor, she just sparkles."
Caquatto's quick rise through the gymnastics ranks in the past year caught many coaches and administrators by surprise. They knew she was good, but they didn't think she'd be in the running for this year's Olympics.
"They were pleasantly surprised," Don McPherson said. "She's new in the system."
They'll be more ready for Caquatto's younger sister, Bridgette, who also competed in Boston, though at the junior level.
For now, the focus is on filling out the extensive paperwork that USA Gymnastics requires and getting ready for Philadelphia. The McPhersons have yet to unpack from the Boston trip. Caquatto hasn't had time to run one very important errand to most American teenagers: get her driver's license.
"It's been crazy, just with all the paperwork and all the phone calls, workouts, training," she said. "Hopefully, when I get back from the Olympic Trials I will. I was going to do it this week, but it's way too crazy to do anything. There's not much time."