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Gordon: Vegas homecoming sweet for UCLA freshman gymnast

Her competitive collegiate debut is Saturday at Orleans Arena, and Las Vegan turned UCLA gymnast Selena Harris unapologetically requested an unusually large allotment of tickets for her family members and friends.

“Like 15,” she said laughingly via Zoom before beginning the bus ride back to her hometown. “I just robbed my whole team of their tickets.”

Surely, her teammates understand.

Harris this weekend is coming home. She returns as the nation’s top freshman recruit at one of its most prestigious meets, the inaugural Super 16 presented by Ozone — a two-day event comprised of 16 teams and more than 300 gymnasts which make it the largest women’s collegiate invitational.

The best of the best of the best will be there.

So will her mother, Nidia Miranda.

“I’m so excited to see (her),” Harris said with a smile. “I know she’s going to cry.”

‘That’s not normal’

She arrived in the Las Vegas Valley as a second-grader by way of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, where her father, Chris, coached wrestling. A field trip to a local gym there would change her life.

Her bridges and splits were far superior to those of the average kindergartener. Her family still has the pictures to prove it.

She was sent home that afternoon with a card addressed to her mother — suggesting she register Harris for classes.

“I think I just liked getting my energy out,” said Harris, 19 and a graduate of Green Valley High School. “And being able to just flip, I was like ‘Who wouldn’t want to just flip around?’”

The move to Las Vegas — where much of her extended family already resided — tempered her enthusiasm. But watching Gabby Douglas win all-around Olympic gold in 2012 reinvigorated her and led Harris and her father to tour local gyms.

It would begin and end with Gymcats, a local powerhouse that produced Olympic medalist Tasha Schwikert Moser and dozens of other Division I gymnasts.

Harris would prove a quick study.

“She was this little talented 8-year-old, and … she just caught onto everything really quick,” said Gymcats coach Jill Preston. “If we gave her a correction, she’d make it on the very next turn. That’s not normal.”

Equally unusual: that by 9 or 10, Harris was training alongside the 16-, 17- and 18-year-olds the gym would house — and flashing Olympic potential in the process.

Maximizing that means deviating from traditional development and committing to the grueling demands of elite gymnastics, something Harris tried for two years before contemplating the physical consequences.

At 16, she decided she was done.

“I cried a lot,” said Harris, who still hopes to compete in an Olympiad on behalf of her mother’s native Guatemala. “But I feel like it’s the best decision to stay healthy.”

Dedication rewarded

And healthy she would stay en route to eight national championships at Level 10, akin to the elite level sans its inherent pressure. Other top programs rushed to recruit her, but Harris wanted to become a Bruin.

She was 12 or 13 when she attended one of their meets and left smitten by their inventive floor routines. A commitment to UCLA in March of 2021 ensured she’ll perform her fair share.

Plus, “I like the beach,” she said. “It all ties into one and I’m close to home.”

Barely a four-hour bus ride away.

So far, Harris loves UCLA but misses the family, friends and coaches she left behind in Las Vegas.

Good thing she asked for those extra tickets.

“In high school, everyone would be like ‘You’re going to UCLA.’ But I don’t think they realized how big it was,” Harris said. “(I’m excited for) just being able to have everyone see and watch for the first time. It’s my first college meet ever.”

Contact Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.

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