Rising Star: Riley McCusker talks upgrades for 2017, her move to MG Elite and her teammates Laurie Hernandez & Jazmyn Foberg

MG Elite have had a stellar quadrennium on the elite level, producing the 2013 Junior National Vault Champion, Ariana Agrapides, the 2014 Junior National All-Around Champion, Jazmyn Foberg and of course the 2015 Junior National All-Around Champion, 2016 National All-Around bronze medalist and 2016 Olympic gold and silver medalist, Laurie Hernandez. Now, with Tokyo on the horizon the newest rising star from the New Jersey gym is making her mark. Riley McCusker made a splash onto the elite scene in 2016, placing 2nd all-around in the junior division at the 2016 P&G Championships and also winning the silver medal on the uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise. Riley was added to the National Team for the first time following the Championships and will become a senior gymnast in 2017. With beautiful long lines and great flexibility combined with difficult routines, Riley will certainly be one to watch for the upcoming quadrennium as we look towards Tokyo in 2020.

Here, Riley talks about moving to MG Elite, making the jump to the elite level, her training & future plans, her coach, Maggie Haney and watching her MG Elite teammate, Laurie Hernandez compete at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

1) Firstly congratulations on a wonderful 2016 season, how did it feel to be added to the National Team and earn the silver medal at P&G Championships?

I was in total shock with my accomplishments over this past year! I came into the year with no expectations. I was just happy to qualify international elite, since I was not even an elite gymnast just a few months ago. My accomplishments really showed me that all of the hard work and sacrifices leading up to P&G Championships were totally worth it!

2) You moved to MG Elite not that long ago, can you tell me a little about why you made that move?

I knew that I had maxed out what my coaches could offer at my old gym (it was just a different program) and I needed a more experienced coach if I was going to reach my goals. That is why i decided to move to MG Elite.

3) Maggie and MG Elite have had phenomenal success in the elite world in the past few years, why do you think that is and what was the difference Maggie made to you as a gymnast to make you become one of the top juniors in the U.S.? 

I know that all of that past success for MG was from Maggie. She is the best coach that I have ever had and I have learned so much from her.
Maggie is an all around coach; meaning she can technically teach the skills properly & make them feel so easy. But at the same time, she also makes her gymnasts very beautiful and clean, which is so important!

4) When did you realise that you had the potential to do elite gymnastics and was it always a goal of yours to go elite?

I always wanted to be an elite but honestly, I didn’t realize that I was even that good! I moved to MG Elite in hopes of qualifying elite and making my dreams come true; but Maggie was the one who saw all of my potential and kept telling me that I was going to be a good elite!

5) How has training been going since the Summer? Can we expect any upgrades or new skills for 2017?

As soon as Championships were over, I had a screw removed from my elbow. It was a minor surgery but it still set me back like 8-10 weeks. So I am coming back from that now and working on a lot of upgrades for this upcoming season!
I have upgraded my beam & bars by about 8-9 tenths each (but with the new code the SV’s won’t look too much different on paper); but the routines are much harder! I also plan to double full on vault this season.

6) What was it like seeing your MG Elite teammate Laurie Hernandez be named to the Olympic Team and go on to win 2 medals at the Games? Did it give you extra motivation and belief that dreams can come true?

It was incredible seeing Laurie competing in the Olympics! It motivated me so much because I saw how hard she worked in the gym every single day. I watched the process happen right in my very own gym!!
It was very motivating for me and I know that dreams can become a reality; if you just follow the plan and never give up.

7) On the flip side, you watched your other teammate Jazmyn Foberg be forced to end her 2016 season prematurely due to injury, how has her story affected you and even more so her determination to come back in 2017?

It broke my heart when Jazzy had to end her season early. I know she wanted to be right there competing with Laurie. But Jazzy is recovering now and she is back in the gym and working every day.

8) You have verbally committed to the University of Florida, what was special about Florida for you and was there any other schools that interested you?

As soon as I met the coaches at Florida and went to visit them I knew right away that was where I belonged! I felt so comfortable there!

9) Every elite gymnast is obviously tremendously talented and hard working, is there anything in particular that you think makes you succeed? Something that keeps you going and striving to be the best you can be?   

I just always remember that I am doing this for no one else but me! I love gymnastics and that’s what keeps me going every day.
Maggie tells me that I have a “very good international look”, so hopefully that will help me stand out because all the elites in our country are pretty awesome!

10) You will be senior in 2017, are you excited to enter the senior ranks and what are your goals for the 2017 season?

I am super new to elite (less that a year ago, I was a not very good level 10) so it’s all moving very fast. But I think I can handle it & I am so excited to be a senior this upcoming year! One of my goals would be to get my first international competition.

11) What do you think was your biggest accomplishment as a gymnast, aside from competition results or being added to the National Team? 

I think my biggest accomplishment would be all of the new skills that I have learned how much my dance has improved over the past year, I was really awkward before!

12) Obviously gymnastics is a huge part of your life but outside the gym, what is your personality like and what do you think you would do if you didn’t do gymnastics?

Outside of the gym, I love being outside and hanging out with my friends and family. I actually live with one of my teammates, so we hang out all the time and just do silly stuff.
If I didn’t do gymnastics, I don’t know what I would do, but I have always wanted to try pole vaulting!

13) You train away from home, how has being away from your family affected you?

Living away from home has it’s ups and downs. I miss my family a lot but they are moving to New Jersey soon & I am so excited! I asked to move to MG Elite; so it was a choice and sacrifice that I chose to make. But I get a lot of positive support from my coaches and teammates! They have become my second family and we are all so close; it makes it easier to be away from home.

14) What do you see yourself doing when you’re older? Is coaching something your interested in or do you want to have a career outside of the gymnastics world?

When I am older I want to be an orthopedic surgeon.

15) And finally, tell me a little about the early years of gymnastics for you. What came naturally and what made you fall in love with the sport?

When I was little I was always naturally flexible. The idea that there was always more to learn each day and ways to improve every practice; that’s what made me fall in love with the sport.


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