I Met Kyla Ross!

On September 9th, 2016, I met Kyla Ross– member of the legendary “Fierce Five” 2012 USA Women’s Gymnastics Olympic Gold Team!! (wow that was a mouthful!)

Here’s the story.

After a morning run on the Drake Stadium track, my friend Marcel and I strolled around campus in search of a water fountain to quench our parched throats when suddenly, I spotted a girl geared up in a blue UCLA athletic tank and spandex shorts walking down Bruin walk. Being the gymnastics-obsessed person I am, I instantly recognized her as Kyla Ross! I did a mini freak-out session inside, and, without thinking, found my feet moving in her direction. I greeted her with a crazed fangirl smile and said, “Wait- are you Kyla?”

She seemed a little surprised at my forwardness, and laughed a little as she replied, “Yeah”. I then introduced myself as Belicia, telling her I used to be a rhythmic gymnast, to which she replied, “Oh, that’s so cool!” I asked if I could have a picture with her, and she conceded, but, as she was in a hurry, we had to “make it quick”. So Marcel took our picture on my iPhone, and he took a picture with her as well. Then we said our goodbyes.

It took me a good five minutes to fully overcome the effects of being starstruck. One week at UCLA and I’ve already run into one of my favorite gymnasts of all time! Marcel, being from Switzerland, didn’t know who Kyla was. I explained to him that she was a US Olympic gymnast who won gold in the team all-around in London 2012. I googled her to prove that this was no joke.

So, Marcel and I continued on our quest to find a water fountain. About ten minutes later, however, we saw Kyla AGAIN as she walked towards John Wooden Center, the premier on-campus gymnasium, for a gymnastics team meeting. I waved to her from the distance, all enthused and starstruck all over again, and she smiled and waved back. Marcel and I walked up to her for the second time and said hey. I remember saying to her, “I hope this doesn’t sound weird or anything, but we literally just googled you.” She laughed and said it was totally okay. I told her she was one of my favorite gymnasts and that I loved the Fierce Five. Except it didn’t actually go that smoothly, because at the last minute, I blanked on what the 2012 USA Women’s gymnastics team name was, and she had to fill in “Fierce” for me… I was semi-mortified at the fact that I had forgotten the name of the legendary Olympic team that won gold in London, in front of Kyla herself! But in my defense, there are honestly SO many adjectives it could have been- Fab, Final, Fearless- it gets confusing, okay?! I asked her if Jordyn (Jordyn Wieber, her teammate during the 2012 Olympics) was on the UCLA gymnastics team as well, and she replied that Jordyn was actually the coach!! As we continued our walk towards JWC, Kyla to my left and Marcel to my right, we ran into two of my friends from Indonesia. I said in a super loud voice, “GUYS, THIS IS KYLA ROSS!!!” Kyla was just like “Omg” and doubled over in laughter. In retrospect, maybe I shouldn’t have been so public about her presence… celebrities are constantly in the limelight, so they must cherish the few moments of anonymity they get… I was just so excited that I was actually having a semi-normal conversation with Kyla Ross that I couldn’t contain my brimming enthusiasm! Kyla didn’t seem to mind, however. She told us to go to the gymnastics meets in Pauley Pavillion and cheer on the UCLA gymnastics team. We all replied that she could count on us being there! And with that, we arrived at JWC and parted ways. My friends and I watched as she walked through the glass doors of the world-renown athletic center named after the greatest basketball coach of all time.

What struck me about Kyla was how “normal” she seemed to be. Obviously, she is an Olympic gold medalist and one of the greatest gymnasts in the world. There’s nothing ordinary about that. But in person, she wasn’t as godly as I expected. She is human, just like you and me. To me, Kyla actually came off as  soft-spoken and gentle— very different from the ferocity she brings to the gymnastics floor. It was fascinating to be up close and personal with someone you’ve only ever seen on television and youtube videos. Through the screen, there seems to exist an irreconcilable divide between me and her. In person, however, you realize that these “greats” are really just talented, incredibly hard-working individuals blessed with opportunity.

I hope to run into Kyla again during my next four years at UCLA— apparently, she is a freshman as well! I fully expect to cross paths with at least one other celebrity while here in the heart of West LA. And when I do, I will most likely be flustered and star-struck and beyond myself, but I will at least find comfort in the fact that these people are only human. We are all made of the same flesh and blood and matter. There’s really no inherent difference between the “ordinary” and the “exceptional”.

Fifteen Years Later- Remembering 9/11

On this day, fifteen years ago, nearly 3,000 souls were lost in the horrific terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. My heart goes out to the innocents who lost their lives in this unspeakable act of terror. My heart mourns with the families and friends of the deceased. My heart warms with gratitude towards the firemen, police officers, EMTs, and other brave souls who risked their lives to save others from the burning flames of evil. It is sad that fifteen years after this indelible tragedy, terrorism still plagues our great nation, manifesting its ugly heart in militant states like ISIS. The hate… the rampant evil… I always ask the same question– why? Whenever did violence and cold-blooded murder become the answer to ideological disparity? Well, I’m afraid there’s no answer to that question, for it’s been that way since the beginning of time… Intolerance for difference and diversity have plagued humankind since the very inception of man.

I am beyond grateful to have grown up in a community and time where diversity in all its forms have been, for the most part, embraced with open arms. But I am also aware that I live in a small bubble… for in most parts of the world,  difference is perceived as danger, which in turn fans the flames of violent fear.

I am alive today, and for that, I owe the utmost gratitude to my generous God. I will live each day for the individuals who cannot… individuals who were taken prematurely from this world, fifteen years ago… whose lives were cut short at the hands of radical extremists.

Here’s the sad thing, though– these terrorists are made of the same flesh and blood as you and me. Every human being on this Earth is made of the same matter. How we can allow mere ideological differences sever our greatest tie– that of humanity– is beyond me.

Rest in peace to all who died at the hands of insurmountable evil fifteen years ago. And here’s hoping that one day, we as a human species will learn to accept the diversity that gives this world its greatest color.