Cambrian: Sports

Former Cambria resident wins gold at prestigious gymnastics event

Ella Kenney
Ella Kenney

Former Cambria resident Ella Kenney is a world champion.

The 11-year-old with long ties to the North Coast earned prestigious U.S. Association of Independent Gymnastics Clubs medals in Orlando, Florida, late last month.

Ella is the gold-medal-winning world champion in her level on uneven bars, and she won the silver medal for all-around best gymnast at the international meet. To win the silver and gold medals, she competed against about 30 top international gymnasts in her age group (11 and 12 years old).

The USAIGC World Championships included teams from various countries. In Ella’s competitions, the gymnasts represented the United States, South Africa and the United Kingdom. The association also includes club athletes from Bermuda, Canada and England.

Gymnasts competing in national gymnastics clubs’ events must qualify to move up through various levels before their coaches will even consider transferring them to their nation’s gymnastics team. That’s the level in which the ultra-elite compete fiercely for the right to participate in such ultimate events as the Olympics.

Ella was a Cambria resident until 2009, when she and her mom, Dusty Mullins Kenney, moved to El Segundo. Ella is a member of several longtime Cambria families — the late Randy Mullins was her grandfather, Tina Marie Humphrey is her grandmother and Sharon Yost Vandercook is her great-grandmother.

Ella Kenney already has won about 40 medals in previous competitions at local, statewide and West Coast levels.

Ella isn’t one of those toddler phenoms who started doing walkovers, 180 splits and back layouts about the same time they learned to walk. She’s only in her second year of training and her first year of competitions, after having begged for gymnastics lessons for several years.

Dusty Kenney said her work schedule had made it difficult-to-impossible to get Ella to those lessons. Then Kenney’s fiance, Chris Peeler, was able to rearrange his work schedule so that he could take Ella to Broadway Gym in Los Angeles, where she now trains.

Ella started learning gymnastics in the gym’s recreational classes, her mom recalled, but “within a few weeks, she became known as ‘the rec girl with the kip,’ ” which is the move that propels a gymnast from the floor up to the bars — a move that usually takes years to perfect. She quickly rose through the ranks and expects to move up to the Bronze level (from Copper) in August.

The young athlete has lots more practice ahead and many medals to win at several levels before her mom will even think or mutter the magic phrase “Olympics team.” Kenney is, however, hoping her daughter can earn a college scholarship based on her gymnastics skills.

Ella already has won about 40 medals in previous competitions at local, statewide and West Coast levels, Kenney said, adding that Ella’s coach told her after the Florida performance that “she could see moving Ella to the USAG team.”

She also won the leadership award at the end-of-season club banquet, after leading her peers in their warmup and floor exercises. Ella said modestly that she was tapped for the leadership role “because our warmups have to be in a specific order, and I was the first one to memorize it.” However, others at the gym “have taken to calling me ‘Coach Ella,’ ” she said with a shy laugh.

“She bonds everybody together,” Kenney said proudly of her daughter.