From a five-year gymnastics hiatus to two Olympic silver medals, Ania Hatch has a truly unique Olympic story to share with athletes at International Gymnastics Camp. She inspired gymnasts around the world when she went from 26-year-old beginner back to elite status earning a spot on the 2004 U.S. Olympic Team in just over a year. Ania has jumped through major hurdles to make her Olympic dreams come true, and eight years later, she’s still touring from camp to camp motivating athletes to do the same. Her first time coaching at IGC, the most important part of her mission is giving back to the young gymnasts who could be in her shoes one day.
Practicing cartwheels as a preschooler, the Cuban-born gymnast was scouted when she was only 4-years-old and doing gymnastics everyday by the age of 6. Like her 2004 Olympic teammate, Terin Humphrey, she was stronger and far more flexible than most little girls, but didn’t believe she had a natural talent for gymnastics. “It wasn’t easy for me when I was little. I definitely wasn’t the best in the group,” said Ania. “Some people think that if you make it to the Olympics you’re just good at everything, but I wasn’t. I had to work for it.”
Ania worked all the way up to being the first Cuban gymnast to ever medal at a World Championships earning a Bronze on vault, her signature event. Her performance was good enough to qualify for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, but she was forced to put her dreams on hold when Cuba didn’t have the funds to make it a reality.
She hung up her leotard for five long years before becoming an American citizen, moving to the U.S. and getting back into the gym. Ania may have worked for her skills as a young gymnast, but by 26 she had all the natural talent she needed to go from beginner back to elite. “I couldn’t even do a kip when I started gymnastics again,” said Ania. “I just tried not to discourage myself. Little by little the natural talent comes into place and you get back into shape.”
To go from nothing to one of the best in the world in just over a year is nothing short of amazing. This time she walked away from the podium clutching two silver medals, one with the U.S. Team and another in her star event. “It was really a dream come true for me,” said Ania. “I had to have a very tight mind to be able to get back into shape, but when I was on the podium I just thought it was amazing that I was able to do it.”
Ania continues to inspire girls from all over the world, especially at IGC, where gymnasts with the same Olympic dreams come together for the love of the sport. Now that she’s reached her goal she hopes to help make others succeed by giving back and sharing her experience. “I love coaching,” said Ania. “Going from being the one that was always listening to being the one people look up to is really nice.”
She gives gymnasts at IGC more than just her experience, she gives them hope and she looks forward to keeping a good thing going. “For me it’s just great to give back,” said Ania. “It’s a unique thing that these kids can have an experience with Olympians, ask them questions and just be able to hang out with them.”
Ania stuck with the sport through thick and thin all because stepping into the gym made her smile, and it was all worth it because she gets to share her smile with campers at IGC.