'It's just crazy'
CMU athlete makes history in Tokyo and her mark in Mount Pleasant
Luciana Alvarado-Reid had a week and a half to train in the gym and get acclimated to the equipment to prepare herself before she stepped foot on the biggest stage in sports – the Olympics – as the first ever gymnast from Costa Rica to compete.
Now, Alvarado-Reid is a freshman on the gymnastics team at Central Michigan University, where she is a part of the back-to-back Mid-American Conference Champion team.
Ever since she was a little girl, Alvarado-Reid has competed in gymnastics. Her mother opened her own gym when Alvarado-Reid was young.
“She opened up her own gym when I was about two, I pretty much grew up there with my sisters, and did gymnastics because my mom was a coach,” Alvarado-Reid said.
Before Alvarado-Reid made history, gymnastics was her hobby.
“When I was about 10 or 11, I started really liking competition, and I started going to camps and more international competitions so that was when I started getting a little more serious,” Alvarado-Reid said.
Alvarado-Reid attended public elementary school when she was little, but as she got into high school she made the transition to homeschool in order to spend more time on training.
“I started junior elite when I was about 13 and that was my start of the Olympic quad for the Tokyo Olympics,” she said. “I qualified in 2021 in the Pan American Championships, so it was a long process, pretty much my whole life.”
Alvarado-Reid took gold on balance beam and bronze in the all-around in the Pan-American Championships in 2021, to qualify for the big stage.
One month later, Alvarado-Reid competed in the Tokyo Olympics as the first ever gymnast to represent Costa Rica.
Gymnasts have just a week and half to podium train in the competition arena with the judges to prepare for the actual meet.
In 2021, there were no spectators at the Olympics due to COVID-19. From the start of the games, it was unusually isolated.
“There was just the athletes so that was kind of weird, because we were, like, celebrating and trying to cheer but there were not a lot of people there,” Alvarado-Reid said.
Alvarado-Reid was not the only member of her family to go to the Olympics -- not to compete but to coach. Her mom, who was her coach, was able to share the Olympic experience with her. Alvarado-Reid’s sister helped choreograph both her Olympic routine and her floor routine at CMU.
“A lot of people always ask me, ‘is it weird to be trained by your mom?’ But it’s pretty much all I’ve ever known, so it was just normal for me,” Alvarado-Reid said. “It was beautiful for the both of us living our dreams together.”
Gymnastics has been a part of Alvarado-Reid’s family for generations. Her grandmother was a physical education teacher and took her mom to gymnastics camp in the summer. Both of Alvarado-Reid’s sisters also competed in gymnastics.
Alvarado-Reid described her experience at the Olympics as “surreal.”
“We were all preparing to march out and I remember seeing, like, Canada has an elite gymnast, she has won world medals, and she was nervous too, and everyone was just really anxious, but just excited,” Alvarado-Reid said. “When we walked out, you see the Olympic rings everywhere, and you get reminded that you are at the Olympics ... it’s just crazy.”
She went on to place 51st in the all-around on the global stage.
“You know that you’re with the best in the world, and there’s this energy of everyone being excited to be there,” Alvarado-Reid said.
After the Olympics, she was ready for the next chapter of her life and knew she wanted to get an education, but she didn’t want to let go of gymnastics.
“I didn’t really want to quit gymnastics, but I also wanted to start college,” Alvarado-Reid said. “We don’t really have that back home, we don’t really have college sports. You either do sports or you study.”
Alvarado-Reid emailed different colleges without any particular one in mind. Following a meeting with the coaches at CMU and members of the team, she knew it was the right choice for her.
“The coaches here are just so great and the team is just so great, so I was like, ‘That’s where I want to go,’” Alvarado-Reid said.
However, coming to a new environment as a native Spanish speaker also came with challenges.
“The hardest part was probably transitioning from training at my home gym with my mom and my family and my close teammates because we were a very small team,” Alvarado-Reid said. “Then coming here and being with other coaches and having to learn gymnastics in English. ... because I knew how to speak English, but I didn’t really know the gymnastics terms.”
This season, the freshman scored a career high on vault and bars with a 9.900, beam with a 9.925, floor with a 9.875 and in the all-around a 39.400.
Alvarado-Reid’s joyful personality and maturity makes her fit right in with the CMU gymnastics team, according to head coach Christine MacDonald.
“She brings a fresh perspective to gymnastics,” MacDonald said. “She carries herself in a very confident and calm manner when she’s in the gym. She trains really hard. ... She really put the time into the details and really embraced a new system, as far as training goes.”
Alvarado-Reid was named the MAC Freshman of the Year, and she made the All-MAC tournament team after the Chippewas won the 2023 MAC Championship.
“Ever since the Olympics and college, I really just want to have fun doing meets,” Alvarado-Reid said. “I used to be very stressed, and elite gymnastics is very serious. Everyone is quiet and in their own space. It was very individual.
“But college is pretty much all for your team, everything you do is for your team, and not the individual, you can just have fun.”