Resilient Athletes

Apartment training with NYC’s junior elite gymnast


This ongoing photo series examines the ways the coronavirus pandemic has upended and reshaped athletes' lives.

Annalise Newman-Achee competed in an unusually empty gymnasium in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, at the KPAC Cup in March. The four-day event, normally packed with competitors and their families, was abruptly canceled following Day 1. Equipment was disassembled around Newman-Achee, New York City's first junior elite gymnast, as she competed. The 14-year-old returned home with her mother, Wendy Newman, not knowing the abbreviated event would be her last for the foreseeable future. Their Brooklyn brownstone has been transformed into her personal gym, and Newman-Achee is challenged to replicate 32-hour training weeks meticulously designed to set her on a path toward the U.S. national team.

Annalise, top step, has exhibited a fierce, physical drive since she was 2 years old, according to her mother. Gymnastics quickly became an outlet. Her 10-year-old sister, Lirit, bottom of the steps, is often close by on her heels.
The family's two-story brownstone features 12-foot ceilings on the first floor and a backyard that has allowed the sisters to work with extra space. Wendy has made adjustments inside, including moving a chandelier, to accommodate. "I always knew there was something up," Wendy says. "[Annalise] was sliding down the banister like Mary Poppins and climbing between doorways like Spider-Man. I was always used to them being active."
Annalise admits that her performance at KPAC Cup was not her best. The chaotic circumstances triggered an uncharacteristic lapse in drive for the girl nicknamed "Tiger" by her family. "It was just a really weird vibe," she says. "I didn't feel as focused, and I just didn't feel like myself."
In mid-March, as the stay-at-home order extended and the Chelsea Piers Field House, where Annalise trains, remained closed, Wendy ordered a trampoline-like mat, so Annalise could practice tumbling skills at home. "As soon as we figured out this would be going on for a very long time, we figured it would be good just to get a few things," Annalise says.
Annalise and Lirit are used to an extremely regimented schedule that includes a 5:30 a.m. start to accommodate double sessions. Coach Chris Mclain has organized workouts that alternate between full-body conditioning and event-specific conditioning.
"We have to take everything that we could normally use equipment to do and figure out a way to keep that with her, just at home on a rug," Mclain says.
Annalise ranks among the top 30 gymnasts under age 15 in the country. She has more than 200 trophies and medals tucked into corners of her bedroom. "Even when she doesn't need to be competitive, she's competitive," Wendy says. "You don't want to play a board game against Annalise."
“[Annalise] was sliding down the banister like Mary Poppins and climbing between doorways like Spider-Man. I was always used to them being active.”
Wendy, an artist and children's art teacher, experienced symptoms of COVID-19 for about 10 days in late March, but was unable to get tested. Annalise, who loves to cook and bake, helped with chores around the house while her mother recovered. The family is completely healthy now, Wendy says.
The Newman-Achee family planned to leave the city for Wendy's mother's home in Florida on March 21, which would have allowed the girls more space to train. Worsening conditions across the country forced the family to cancel the trip the day before they were to leave.
Annalise gets assigned her online school work on Mondays and has to finish it by Friday, but she makes it a priority to finish it all the first day so she can spend her week training. Sometimes it's still challenging. "It may take longer than I expected to train or take longer to do work," she says.
It is unclear when events will resume. Annalise was set to compete in a qualifying event at the end of April and another in May. These semifinal events would've allowed Annalise to qualify for the U.S. Gymnastics Championships in June, but all of those events have been canceled. "I miss having a schedule so I can get things done," Annalise says.
Walking the dog, Lola, has become a more frequent activity for Annalise. "We can't go to the dog park anymore, but I can still take her to an open field she can run in," she says.
When Annalise walks the family's 7-month-old golden retriever around the neighborhood, she has had to exercise extreme precaution, as conditions have worsened in New York. She doesn't leave the house without a mask and has been mindful of social distancing.
Although she's regimented with her at-home routine, Annalise still feels uneasy. "I just can't expect what's going to happen throughout the day," she says. The new normal has tested her patience. "Annalise seems like a trapped tiger that needs to get out and needs to do what she needs to do," Mclain says.
Written by Anthony Gulizia
Additional reporting by Anna Watts

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