Gymnast Mila Brusch can relate to what happened to Simone Biles at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, who opted out of competing after losing her mental bearings mid-air and experienced the “twisties,” she explained — both of which could have seriously injured her.
“What Simone did was really brave. Focusing on her mental health because that is a big part of gymnastics that people don’t realize,” the 17-year-old from Forest Park, Ohio, told Inside Edition Digital for its “On the Rise” series.
“A lot of people just think we’re robots and we can just do all these flips and there’s no mental toll on us, but I think it’s really brave that she brought awareness to mental illness because that’s a real struggle in gymnastics.”
Mila spends about four hours a day at Cincinnati Gymnastics training as a Level 10 gymnast. It’s a notch below an elite gymnast, which is what Simone Biles and other athletes are in order to compete at the Olympics.
“I do gymnastics because I love it and I’m good at it, and I feel like it’s something that’s different from other people,” Mila said of her passion for the sport. “You can’t really go to a normal person, ask them if they can do a backflip and they can just do it. I just feel like it’s something that’s so unique to me and makes me different than others.”
The teen started doing flips on her mother’s lap as a toddler and that’s when her parents, LaDonna and Wain Brusch, first enrolled her in classes following in her older sister’s interests. Since the age of 5, she’s consistently trained with coach Rachael Tracy Gardner, who says the vault and floor routines have typically been her highest-scoring events at competitions. Mila is also proficient at the uneven bars and the balance beam. “I would say Mila’s strength is her strength and power,” Gardner said.
Mila was about 13 years old when she realized she was more than talented and decided the Olympics was not for her. “I had won the state meet, the regional meets, and I had qualified to nationals and won events there, so that’s when I realized that I think I could make it to the college level,” Mila said.
After being homeschooled from the fifth to the eighth grade, Mila started getting letters from colleges in the mail. Formal recruitment began her sophomore year, which was when she was able to call and communicate with college coaches. Mila got to know the coaches, the schools, and the teams before making a decision. The University of Denver is where she’s committed and hopes to begin competing on its Division I gymnastics team in 2023. As part of her commitment to Denver, she posted a photo on Instagram wearing a shirt featuring the school’s insignia. It’s part of a collegiate tradition.
“A verbal commitment is not a binding agreement. It’s a handshake until National Signing Day (February 2, 2022), which is during her senior year,” explained Wain.
“I was over the moon when I decided to commit to Denver,” continued Mila, who never plans on taking the SATs again. She took them once last year. “I just felt like all my years of hard work in the gym had finally paid off.”
Part of the commitment means scholarship money to help offset costs of tuition, books, room, and board. “The point of gymnastics was not the college scholarship when we started, so it’s just kind of a bonus,” LaDonna said.
Now Mila’s focus is finishing her last year of high school and enjoying all the perks of being a teenager, from going to prom and hanging out with friends after school. Even though she’s an athlete, she still loves junk food — especially Oreos as a snack before dinner. She finds time to teach gymnastics at the studio she trains at and was recently part of a teen sleep-study program at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.
Her biggest hurdle over the past few years has been surprisingly finding her passion for gymnastics.
“There were a lot of times that I felt like I wanted to quit, or I wasn’t good enough, or I just didn’t enjoy it,” Mila revealed. “I just thought more of it as busywork. I thought it was too much pressure on me. Pressure is a big part of gymnastics. I mean, especially in competitions, you want to do well.”
She said her friends and teammates helped her through those rough days to keep her coming back to the mat. And yes, even she has experienced “the twisties,” as Simone Biles had during the most recent Olympics.
“We talked a lot about what it means to just take care of yourself first,” explained LaDonna. “And then go out there and do the best gymnastics that you can. Gymnastics doesn’t last very long for women, so we know that the reality is that gymnastics is going to end one day, and she’s going to have to still live. And she wants to be healthy and happy when it’s all over.”
Mila’s determination pushed her to continue on the collegiate path.
“We do a lot of goal setting at my gym and a lot of mental training. So just setting those goals and having something to reach for makes me driven to and motivated to get there,” she added.