Earlier tonight, Christina Desiderio announced her decision to retire from elite in order to begin her collegiate career at LSU a year earlier than planned.
Christina, who turns 17 in August and trains at Parkettes, qualified to junior international elite at age 12 and competed for four years, making the national team in 2015 and earning a spot at the U.S. Olympic Trials last summer. Best known for her big skills and fabulous flair on beam and floor, Christina picked up several medals at nationals over the years — including the bronze on floor in her final season as a junior in 2015 — and she was consistently a fan favorite for the passion and joy she brought to the sport.
Now, the New Jersey native will be heading down south to compete under legendary NCAA coach D.D. Breaux as she moves on to the next chapter in her life at LSU, where she will absolutely become a superstar. We caught up with Christina to chat about her career so far, her transition to college life, and what we might expect from her in the future!
First of all, congrats on your decision to go to LSU a year early! How did the opportunity come about? What were your biggest pros and cons, and what ultimately gave you the push in that direction?
Thanks so much!! I was talking to the LSU coaches, and they mentioned that there was a spot open, and wondered if I was interested in coming early. I gave it a lot of thought and decided that would be the best way to go. In the end there were more pros than cons, the biggest one being that my body can’t handle elite gymnastics any longer. I had a couple of nagging injuries that would not allow me to train the way I needed to. I rested for a while, so I can be ready to go in August.
When choosing LSU in the first place, what made it stand out to you the most over other programs?
I visited five colleges, and absolutely fell in love with LSU, the coaches, the atmosphere, and the team. It truly felt like they were a family. I had no doubt that’s where I belonged.
After so many years at the elite level, what are you most looking forward to in college gym and what do you think will take the most adjusting to?
Elite gymnastics is very intense and sometimes lonely. I am so looking forward to being part of a team. I think the biggest adjustment will be going to actual school. I’ve been homeschooled since the fifth grade, so I’m really looking forward to that.
Christina killing it on beam at one of her first national-level elite performances.
Where are you hoping to contribute most in LSU’s lineups? Are you planning on holding onto any of your more difficult skills?
I’m hoping to contribute in the all-around, but specifically floor and beam. I’m sure I’ll be keeping my double layout on floor, but beyond that I have no idea.
How did you get into gymnastics as a kid?
My mom put me in a gymnastics class when I was 6½. She did it so I would learn at an early age to live a healthy lifestyle, and work out. Within seven months, I was competing level 4.
You switched gyms, ending up at Parkettes, which has some of the highest number of elites in history for a U.S. club. When did you decide to make the switch, and what was it about the gym and coaches that made such a big change (and a long commute!) worth it?
I trained at my first gym for about three years. I was progressing very quickly, and my mom felt I needed to go to another gym to take it to the next level. I tried out at a couple of gyms, with Parkettes being the last one. All the girls and coaches were so nice, I immediately felt at home.
My intent was not to go the homeschool route initially, but I soon realized that’s where I was destined to be. I knew I was with the best coaches and at the best facility. The commute was always a challenge, but it was definitely worth it!
When did you decide elite was the goal? What made you realize you had what it takes to compete at that level?
I basically decided to go elite when I got to Parkettes. My coaches knew I had the potential, and encouraged me to go for it.
You had some incredibly special moments in your career, like making the national team two years in a row, and competing at Olympic Trials. With all the hard work you put in, how did it feel for you to make these and any other big steps and dreams a reality?
Honestly, making the national team twice and competing at Olympic Trials were the absolute best times of my life. Getting there was NOT easy, but knowing I accomplished my goals and dreams was worth every minute of it. I will carry those experiences with me throughout the rest of my life!
Looking back at trials, you had some truly excellent routines. What was it like competing in that atmosphere? Was there a ton of pressure or were you able to kind of take a step back and have fun with everything?
Olympic Trials was so amazing! The whole atmosphere actually made me comfortable. It was great to be with all my teammates. Everyone was so supportive of each other. I love all of them! I had the time of my life, and left it all on the floor.
What’s your favorite memory from your time in San Jose, whether on the competition floor or with your teammates?
Competing was my favorite part. The crowd was so kind, and really made everyone feel special. I struggled with my vault on day two, and Aly Raisman came right over to me, helping me through it. It’s something I’ll never forget.
What was it like being in the room waiting for the Olympic team to be named? Was everyone low key freaking out or did you find a way to deal with the excitement/nerves?
The waiting room wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. We were all pretty chill. It was very exciting to be a part of that.
Do you have any gymnasts who inspired you either growing up in the gym or once you started competing at a higher level?
Elizabeth Price was my inspiration growing up at Parkettes. Ebee is an amazing gymnast and person. I was so fortunate to have her in my life as a role model. I am still in awe of all she did and continues to accomplish.
What was the most difficult obstacle you faced in your elite career and how did you overcome it?
I’d have to say the biggest obstacle I faced was coming back after my epic fail at P&Gs in 2014. Going into the last event — and my weakest one, bars — I noticed that I was in sixth place. BIG mistake!! That put a lot of pressure on me, and it showed. I fell three times, and didn’t make the team. I couldn’t begin to describe the devastation I felt. It was tough, but it made me work harder than ever, and I ended up making the team a year later in 2015, again one of my very favorite moments.
An epic floor routine from Christina in 2015. She made the national team the following month.
Do you have any dream skills you either never trained or that you trained but never ended up competing?
I really wanted to compete the Biles on floor, but never got the chance to.
What advice would you give to young gymnasts who say “I want to be like Christina Desiderio when I grow up?”
I know a lot of people say this, but the best advice I would give would be to NEVER give up, keep your head up through the tough times, and give it 100% every day so you never have any regrets. It won’t be easy, but it will always be worth it, not just in gymnastics, but in life!
Thanks so much, Christina, and we can’t wait to see you next season!
Article by Lauren Hopkins
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