Ella Kate Parker
written by LAURA CASON / photography by MELINDA MURPHY PHOTOGRAPHY
Ella Kate Parker may not be a name you have ever heard before today, but it is certainly one you should remember. Whether you follow gymnastics religiously, or you only remember how cool it is during the Olympics or when an LSU floor routine goes viral on your Facebook feed, Ella Kate Parker should be on your radar as she is making a name for herself on the national stage.
Originally from West Monroe, Louisiana, Ella Kate was the All-Around winner in the Women’s Junior Division at the 2021 Winter Cup in Indianapolis, Indiana, this past February. For reference, Ella Kate competed in the 12-15 year old division. In the 16 and up division at this same meet competitors included Laurie Hernandez, Jordan Chiles, and many other Olympic hopefuls. Her first-place finish at this USA Gymnastics qualifier earned her a spot on the Women’s Junior US National Team, and she will go on to compete in the US Championships in Fort Worth this June. At just thirteen years old, this is only the beginning of Ella Kate’s gymnastic career. With such a large title under her belt already, it is not hard to imagine that she’ll go far. Her hopes for the future include qualifying for Olympic trials in three years when she’s sixteen, getting to compete on the international level, and getting a scholarship to a Division I NCAA university gymnastics program.
In many ways Ella Kate is far from the average 13-year-old. Despite all her success, Ella Kate is an exceedingly kind-hearted and humble girl. She exhibits a level of discipline and drive that not many 13-year olds can boast. She first started gymnastics at the age of four and fell in love with it right away. Ella Kate currently trains at Cincinnati Gymnastics in Ohio.. She’s only been with her current gym for a little less than a year, having previously trained in Texarkana, Texas, but she loves it. She says her coaches are very supportive and really believe in her ability. They push her to train hard and be the best she can be.
The transition to this new gym has come with a lot of sacrifice. She and her mother, Cynthia, live in Ohio almost all year in order to train. They rent an apartment near her gym and only get to come home for visits one week at a time, whenever Ella Kate has breaks from training or around holidays. Her dad, Thomas, comes to stay with them for one week a month. While Ella Kate admits that it’s been hard to be so far from her brothers and dad most of the time, she says this new gym has truly been worth it. She’s now able to get the kind of coaching that helped her during the Winter Cup this year and, with continued work, will hopefully help her realize all her gymnastic dreams.
Besides spending five to six hours a day, six days a week, training and working out, Ella Kate also has to keep up with her school work. She is enrolled at Ouachita Christian School in Monroe, where her teachers and mother work together to tutor her privately every day via Facetime after she has finished training. She also tries to eat very health-consciously and go to bed around 8pm every night in order to perform her best. Despite all that, when I asked her if she liked training or if she felt like it was boring, she told me that, honestly, she loves it. Ella Kate says sometimes training “feels like work, work, work, but then you get to those nice results and it pays off, like you know you have something to work towards.” That payoff is the most rewarding part of gymnastics for her and what she believes makes gymnastics unique. She excitedly told me how this most recent meet was full of pomp and circumstance and how cool it was for her to be a part of it. When I asked her what it was like getting to compete at the same meet as future and past Olympians and whether their paths ever crossed, she told me how exciting it was to see them at training days and what an incredibly exhilarating time it was for her. She and her mom both expressed to me that they were just happy for her to be competing at such a large meet, and they had no idea she would take the All-Around title.
When I asked if she still gets nervous for meets, especially performing on such a big stage, she said she does, but competing is her favorite part of gymnastics. Her least favorite part? Rips. Rips are separations of the upper layers of skin in the palm of the hand or around the wrists from the lower layers of blood-rich tissue. These rips are caused from a tight grip on bars or callous buildup on your hands and can often result in open wounds and blisters. What makes them Ella Kate’s least favorite part, aside from the obvious pain, is that you have to keep training while you have them. Dealing with rips is just one example of the physical and mental fortitude this 13-year old displays. Besides training with open wounds on her hands, constantly falling, and working out six hours a day, she also told me a “funny” story about carpet burning her whole face and busting her lip so badly that she tore her frenulum, all while giggling. Tough doesn’t even begin to describe this tiny blonde powerhouse.
Like many professional athletes, Ella Kate has several pre-meet rituals that help her prepare mentally for competition. The first she told me about was the practice she and her mother developed of writing encouraging quotes and Bible verses on her mirror leading up to the meet. She said that they also make sure to spend some time just relaxing beforehand to calm her nerves. Once the time comes to turn it on, Ella Kate relies on her two favorite songs, “Fly” by Avril Lavigne, an anthem about believing in yourself and your own ability to perform, and the classic novelty song “Witch Doctor” as popularized by Alvin and The Chipmunks. Although that may seem like a random selection, Ella Kate assures me there’s a backstory. Before one meet earlier in her gymnastics career, her brother played “Witch Doctor” and sang and danced along to it with her to help her keep from getting nervous. It was such a good time that ever since then, it’s become a part of her pre-meet routine.
Once at the meet, Ella Kate says the environment is really fun and competitive. She told me that unlike other sports, where you go to meets with a team, you are scored individually. Despite that, she said all her teammates are very supportive of each other and encouraging. She has also gotten to make friends with other gymnasts all over the country. Ella Kate says all her friends and teammates cheer one another on. Even though they are technically competing against each other, they actually view it more as competing against your own previous personal records, and that enables them to truly root for one another and wish every girl well on her performance. Ella Kate says the atmosphere at meets is high energy and quite loud. You can tell the excitement and adrenaline of competition are key motivators for her. As is this case with most elite athletes, she performs well under pressure. Her favorite event to compete in is floor exercise. She loves the music and being up on the platform in front of everyone, performing and dancing. The showmanship involved in floor exercise appeals to her self-confidence and personality. And despite her initial shyness, self-confident is definitely a word I would use to describe Ella Kate. It’s a rare 13-year old that can perform at her level physically, but an even rarer one that can withstand the mental pressure of being judged at the high standard gymnasts are.
Keeping that in mind, Ella Kate is constantly working to perfect her routines and skills for competition. While even the simplest of her skills are likely to be well outside most of our inflexible reaches, Ella Kate flips and turns and tumbles with a grace we can only ever hope to see in person someday. One skill she is particularly excited about perfecting, and has yet to showcase during competition, is a triple flight on the balance beam. Any skills in which the gymnast is suspended above the beam are classified as flight skills, and a triple means a combination of three flight skills back-to-back. It’s all very hush-hush as to the specifics, but maybe we will get to see her execute it in June.
When she’s not hard at work training for her next competition, Ella Kate loves to play ping pong with her dad, play tennis with her four brothers (Andrew, Jack, Cole, and Sam), and bake. Ella Kate is especially proud of her brothers. She was really excited to tell me that her brother was recently named Valedictorian of his graduating class, and her mom assured me that they are just as proud of her. Quality time with her brothers and dad is really important to her. During the holidays when she comes home, she says the best times are when all of her family sit down to watch a movie and talk and laugh with each other. It has become something of a Christmas tradition in her family for them to request every year that she make her glazed cream cheese sugar cookies, their favorite of her baked goods. You can tell that her family is one of the most important parts of her life and the time she spends with them is cherished. While it must be difficult to spend so much time apart from them, it is obvious that she is supported and loved by her whole family. She told me that her mom is her biggest supporter and her favorite thing to do when she has down time after training and school is watch Gilmore Girls with her. Ella Kate also told me she has a huge sweet tooth, and her favorite food to eat is brownies and ice cream, which she enjoys sparingly, of course.
With such a supportive family, a mom willing to sacrifice so much, coaches who are dedicated to her, and her own motivated drive for perfection, it’s hard to imagine that anything will keep Ella Kate from succeeding on her path through gymnastics and life. Who knows, in three years’ time, we may get to cheer her on at the Summer Olympics in Paris 2024. Until then, we wish her all the best on the road to success and especially this June at the US Championships!