Gymnasts Ariana Orrego and Isabella Amado Medrano could go to the Olympics, fall face first at every event, and still go home having made history. The pair live and train together in the United States and are the first gymnasts to represent Peru and Panama respectively at the Olympics.
While neither has the gasp-inducing moves of Simone Biles or the vivacious personality of Laurie Hernandez (two members of Team USA), it’s certainly not something to knock them for. Orrego and Medrano are powerful and graceful gymnasts. They both made the decision to leave behind their lives in their native countries to chase an Olympic dream. This decision brought them to Excalibur Gymnastics in Virginia Beach to train under Coach Dena Walker, which means photos of them and their peers in matching leotards and sometimes with a “you can’t split with us” hashtag aren’t rare. However, the journey for each has been different.
As a child, Ariana’s parents enrolled her in tennis, swimming, and gymnastics. In the end, gymnastics won out, and she’s competed since age 6. She cycled through a couple of gyms in Peru, only starting to represent her native country in international competitions six years ago. She still remembers the exact day she arrived in the United States: October 18, 2013. At 15, she left her friends and family behind to begin a new chapter in her life in Virginia Beach. This included living with a host family and completing school over the internet for the first time.
“What made me think about coming to the United States was the high level the country has in this sport. There’s a reason they’re the Olympic champions,” she told El Bocón. “For South America, I was at a good level, but I knew if I wanted to get to Rio, my training in Peru wouldn’t be enough.” Although leaving her family behind wasn’t easy, it wasn’t “that hard.” She explained that “if I wanted to reach my dream, I had to do it.”
She knows she’s an underdog at the Olympics. But her goal is to do her best and not fall, which really should be all of our goals everyday. She’s certainly done it before.
More impressively, just three years in the U.S helped her meet her goal of making the cut for the Peruvian team. In April, at a Pre-Olympic tournament in Rio, the 17-year-old’s score qualified her for the 2016 Olympics, making her Peru’s first Olympic gymnast.
“If I wanted to reach my dream, I had to do it.”
Isabella’s love for gymnastics began after she, like Laurie Hernandez, became bored of ballet. Eventually, it led her to look outside her own country so that she could grow. At 14, she moved to the U.S. on her own. Five years later, she made it to the sporting world’s biggest stage. Unfortunately, getting onto Panama’s Olympic team came with a side of drama. She told El Siglo that one error-filled day at the 2015 World Gymnastics Championship in Glasgow stood between her and qualifying in the first round of Olympic trials.
She ended up receiving an invitation from the Olympic Tripartite Commission. According to The Gymternet, this committee can grant a spot at the games to a gymnast from a country that competed at the previous World Championships and have sent small teams (eight or fewer) to the last two Olympics.
Though many people congratulated her on social media, some believed she received the invitation because of potential nepotism. She denied these rumors, and said her awards back up her talent. In her career, Isabella has medalled in vault, floor exercise, and all around. She most frequently wins for her tumble-heavy balance beam routine, and you can see why.
Her skills also got her a scholarship to compete at Boise State University. She’ll start her freshman year of college in Idaho in August. Before that, she – along with New Zealander Courtney McGregor – will make history as one of BSU’s first Olympian gymnasts.
These two young women left Panama and Peru because their countries didn’t foster gymnastics talent. Ariana has seen her country giving gymnastics the support it deserves, but she’d like to remain in the United States. Isabella, on the other hand, recently said that all Panamanian sports need more government assistance.
For now, they’ve found a support system at Excalibur that has nurtured their talent and helped them grow into Olympians. And Excalibur couldn’t be prouder: