When the lunch bell rings at noon at Vistamar School in El Segundo, Hallie Mossett packs up and leaves immediately for her gym, West Coast Elite Gymnastics in Arcadia. During the hour-long commute, Mossett eats lunch and takes a quick nap in the car. At the gym, she changes, warms up and begins a grueling eight-hour training session, which is interrupted once by a brief 20-minute break. She returns home around 10 p.m., and after a quick shower, tackles her homework until she gets tired. On some days, she wakes at 4 a.m. to finish her assignments.
“It’s hard sometimes. It’s really hard actually,” said Mossett, who lives in Redondo Beach. “But I know that both gym and school are very important to me.”
Mossett, a 17-year-old senior at Vistamar, is a two-time member of the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics Team and an international elite gymnast, the highest rank in the sport. This fall, she will be joining the six-time NCAA National Champion UCLA women’s gymnastics team on a full scholarship.
As regimented as her daily schedule is now, her tumble into the world of competitive gymnastics was all happenstance.
When Mossett was 5, a classmate at Culver City Christian School invited her along to a summer day camp at the Los Angeles School of Gymnastics. It was a fun-packed summer, with days spent jumping on the trampoline and horseback riding on the beach, in addition to learning basic routines like tumbling.
“When I came home, I just remember wanting to keep going back to that place,” Mossett said. Her Culver City elementary school had a semblance of a gymnastics program called Gym Stars, but it couldn’t compare to her experience at the summer camp. “I wanted to do more than just cartwheels,” she said.
The interest was mutual. Her camp instructors immediately saw potential in the 5-year-old, who had nailed her first floor routine with ease. When the summer came to an end, they insisted to her mother, Edwina Mossett, that she return for classes two, three times a week.
“We didn’t know anything about gymnastics, but Hallie wanted it,” Edwina Mossett said.
Her foray into competitive gymnastics, under the mentorship of coaches Fernando Villa and Toni Angelova, was an accelerated journey. For three consecutive years, she earned a spot on the National Talent Opportunity Program (TOPs) Team, a competitive program for the country’s top female gymnasts ages 9 to 11. Then in 2006, at age 11, she qualified into HOPES, another aggressive pre-elite program and competition for young gymnasts.
There, she competed alongside her good friend and Olympic gold-medalist Gabby Douglas.
“It was the first year they created that level,” Mossett explained. “And I did… well.”
In fact, her mother added, she won the entire competition, taking home the title of the first-ever U.S. Challenge Hopes National All-Around and Beam Champion.
“She’s so humble,” Edwina Mossett said, chuckling. “Even though she’s a quiet, very kind, demure personality, she is an unbelievably fierce competitor.”
When asked whether she agrees with her mother’s description, Mossett pandered at first, then gave way to a shy smile.
“I’m a little… different on the floor,” she said quietly. “When I’m doing gym, I have no time to be afraid. Just do it, get it done. A lot of my friends don’t expect it.”
Her daily schedule reflects her fiercely competitive edge and dedication to the sport. Knowing this, it’s not difficult to imagine the magnitude of her disappointment when a hip injury from a minor car accident prevented her from the 2012 Summer Olympics trials.
Though she was happy to see her good friends—some of whom she’d grown up with in the camps—bring the gold home, it was not easy to watch the gymnastics portion of the Games, she said.
“It was a hard summer,” Mossett said, slightly choking up. “I was so, so happy for my friends and so proud that the USA won. But it was so hard that I couldn’t be there or have a chance to even try for a spot since I’d been on the national team for a really long time and was training… ”
“There was no guarantee that she would make the team,” her mother added, “but to not even have the opportunity to try after working so hard for so many years was devastating.”
Mossett, who recently had knee surgery following an injury on beam, is back in the gym, conditioning and doing physical therapy. She expects to continue her regular training in March.
As for what’s next, exciting events loom later this year: World Championships late September in Belgium, the 2013 U.S. Championships mid-August in Hartford, Conn., and of course, NCAA competitions at UCLA. She’s also contemplating the 2016 Olympics, but Mossett seems to have learned a thing or two about the unpredictability of the future.
“I’m taking it day by day,” she said.