Kyla Ross was the 15-year-old baby of the 2012 U.S. Olympic gymnastics team, the one who went to London with no major senior international experience, the one with such a defiant resistance to pressure, it made her a fitting contributor to the team gold medal earned by a group called the "Fierce Five."
At 16, she won silver medals in all-around, uneven bars and balance beam at her senior world championships debut last fall in Belgium.
At 17, she addressed in late April the Dana Hills High School Success Club in Dana Point, Calif. Its previous guest speakers had included an eminent neurosurgeon, a Def Leppard guitarist, a TV and film actor, a renowned marine painter, the founder of Rainbow Sandals and a Secret Service agent.
The pressure of competing in the Olympics and worlds was something she had trained for. This was different.
"Having to speak in front of students my own age made me a little nervous, but I was glad to have many things in common with the students," she said in a text message. "They were all very interested in how I was able I balance sports and school, which is a difficult obstacle for most high school students."
It is the uncommon part, of course, that makes Ross' balancing act so impressive, especially because it is a 12-month project that begins to get overwhelming at this time of year.
Ross defends her all-around title Saturday in the U.S. Classic at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, where the field also includes reigning world all-around champion Simone Biles, 17, of Spring, Texas.
Three weeks later are the U.S. championships in Pittsburgh, where the results determine who goes to the Karolyi Ranch in Texas for the training camp at which the U.S. athletes will be selected for the World Team Championships on Oct. 3-12 in Nanning, China.
Between nationals and worlds, Ross will begin her senior year at Aliso Niguel High School in Aliso Viejo, Calif. If she makes the world team, Ross' baggage will include a computer full of schoolwork.
"For worlds last year, I was gone almost a month," Ross said via telephone. "It was a little more difficult because I didn't get to go to the first day of school."
Ross, whose father, Jason, was an outfielder in the Braves' minor league system for six seasons, tried home schooling because of such scheduling conundrums but decided it wasn't for her. She now goes to school from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and takes summer classes to cover what she misses.
"I didn't like not being able to have real teachers or interact with the class," she said. "Going to school is the part of my day when I get to feel like a normal teenager."
She has begun looking at colleges, with Stanford high on the list. Ross, in the gym six hours a day Monday through Saturday, intends to defer matriculation to prepare for the 2016 Olympics.
"My plan after London wasn't always with the next Olympics in mind," she said. "I just knew I wanted to continue gymnastics."
The challenge over the last two years has been coping with a growth spurt that took her from 5-foot-2 to a sinuous 5-5. It meant gaining strength to move a bigger body and adjusting movements to keep her feet from hitting the uneven bars.
How well Ross handled the physical change showed at last year's worlds. In addition to the medals, she was the female winner of a sponsor's $5,000 Prize for Elegance because her performances displayed the most "charisma, charm ... grace, harmonious movement and emotion."
"The growth spurt actually helped me get a better technique, become more graceful and have a cleaner line," she said.
In other words, just the right balance.
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