Albores sticks the landing: The Kentucky commit earns Minnesota Gymnast of the Year
After three or four hours of gymnastics each day, Raina Albores goes back home to Hudson.
It's a short drive from her second home, which is Perpetual Motion Gymnastics across the river in Woodbury.
When the River Falls High School senior gets home, Albores will have something to eat and start working on her homework. She understands that each day during the week is going to be busy with school, a few hours of gymnastics practice and finishing up homework at the end of the day.
After she's done with homework, she starts getting ready for bed and realizes she still has her leotard from gymnastics on underneath her clothes.
She laughs because that describes her life.
She's a gymnast. A top gymnast in Minnesota according to Minnesota USA Gymnastics, which awarded her the 2019 Gymnast of the Year award this past week.
"When you're little you always keep your leo (leotard) on after practice," Albores said. "I keep it on all the time. I'll go home from practice and do my homework and it's like midnight and I realized 'oh my gosh, I haven't taken my leo off.'"
Albores has been a gymnast all her life. She started at age 2 because her cousin started the sport as well.
Mainly, Albores went to gymnastics to burn off some energy at a young age because she was doing flips and jumps throughout the Albores' house.
Before reaching Minnesota and Perpetual Motion Gymnastics in Woodbury, Albores lived in Chicago and Ohio. The family moved to River Falls, but Albores has trained in Woodbury since kindergarten.
The coaches at Perpetual Motion told Albores' parents that she needed to join team instead of recreational gymnastics because they understood the level of talent she had at an early age.
When she joined the team, the practices became more intense and longer with three to four hours a day and five days a week. Her parents were a little scared about the intensity, but Albores loved every second of it.
"I love testing my limits," Albores said. "I like challenging myself to see what I can do ... sometimes it's physically and sometimes it's mental."
Last November, Albores signed her National Letter of Intent to continue her love for gymnastics at the highly ranked University of Kentucky. Kentucky is ranked in the top 10 for college gymnastics programs.
That road to commit and be the top gymnast in Minnesota took some twists and curves and bumps that Albores never expected.
"It's been very hard getting to this point, but that's what made the journey so much fun," Albores said. "I feel like I'm still a little girl inside and everyday here is a day to get better and better."
Before she received her first college offer, Albores faced some big bumps along the way. She was sick the majority of the season in seventh grade, and had mono during her eighth grade season.
She was able to get back to the floor during her freshman year in high school, but another setback hit her. She was diagnosed with two stress fractures in her back during her sophomore year that limited her on all levels.
Albores said she didn't think the back injury was that severe. She hadn't realized the extent of her injury until her coaches pulled her aside and told her that she wasn't going to compete for a while.
The coaches wanted Albores to focus on her health, but she was confused. She felt fine until she fully realized the pain that was coming from her back, so she started physical therapy and treatments to get back to the floor sooner than later.
"If it's a foot injury you can do a lot of upper body," said Tara Albores, Raina's mother. "With a back injury, you're really limited on what you can do. But she would show up at practice every day and do what she could and be with her teammates."
Once Raina Albores was cleared to fully participate, she was back in her leotard and going through her normal routine again. She wasn't hesitant on any aspect of her routines because she wanted to prepare for nationals and such.
During her time away from the sport, there was no option of leaving the sport for her.
"I realized how much I loved the sport," she said.
She worked hard to get to state during her sophomore year and that's when she received her first offer for colleges. The first one was the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, which was a dream come true because she realized that college gymnastics would be in her future.
Shortly after her first offer, she received another offer from her dream school.
The University of Kentucky.
The only problem with the offers was that she had to make her decision quickly because the two schools didn't want her to go to regionals or nationals that year without being committed.
When Raina Albores received the Kentucky offer, she reflected on her visit to the Wildcats campus. She loved every minute of the visit and knew she wanted to go here, but she never thought she would be able to go here.
She remembers telling her father, Rick Albores, to not buy a shirt from Kentucky because she thought there would be no way that she'd be a Wildcat. Raina Albores and her family would always buy t-shirts or hats at the different colleges, but Kentucky was the only time she was hesitant in buying a shirt.
So when Raina Albores received her offer, she was emotional because it meant so much to her. And for her father, it was a different type of emotion.
"There was a point where I felt emotional," Rick Albores said. "It wasn't an emotion of I'm going to miss her because she's going far away. It was about the possibilities in front of her, the opportunities."
Even though it was a concrete decision for Raina Albores to go to Kentucky, her friends and community thought she was going to Minnesota. Perpetual Motion had a surprise party to reveal her decision and everyone was shocked when blue and white balloons came into the building because many people thought she was going to be a Golden Gopher.
Her teammates and community supported her with the decision and knew she was going to be great at Kentucky.
"It was exciting to see her make the decision to go to Kentucky because she loved everything about that school," said Steph Gibbs, Raina's coach at Perpetual Motion Gymnastics. "She will do amazing things over there and we're excited to watch her journey."
After committing to Kentucky, Raina Albores focused on making herself the best she could be with the two years left in high school. She went to nationals her sophomore year and once again her junior year to compete at the highest level.
She was hoping to make it a third time in her senior year, but an injury late in her senior season halted that opportunity. Since she couldn't compete in many of the events at state and regionals, she didn't qualify for the national meet.
Even though she didn't reach nationals, Raina Albores was awarded with Minnesota Gymnast of the Year for her senior year. It was a special moment for her because she understood how much of an honor it was to receive this award.
"I couldn't be more proud of Raina's maturity throughout the recruiting process and the injuries she's faced," Tara Albores said. "We couldn't be more proud as parents for her accomplishments and we know how much sacrifice she put into this sport. Just seeing her achieve a dream she's had for a long time is special."
Raina Albores admits that she's going to miss her friends and family when she heads to Kentucky to next fall, but she's also excited for her college career. She knows what the expectations are for the team and each gymnast, so she wants to make sure she reaches those goals.
Dream come true
Along with college gymnastics, she said she's really excited about the college atmosphere for Kentucky football games or basketball games. She can't wait to wear blue and white for the next four years of her life.
She will major in physical therapy and minor in sports psychology. Her dream job someday is to become a college gymnastics coach because she loves coaching.
Right now, she coaches and helps out with the younger gymnasts at Perpetual Motion. She wants to continue doing that in Kentucky with another gym around campus.
"I love teaching kids about gymnastics and watching them grow each day and each year," Albores said. "The opportunity to teach these kids is the most fun for me."
She said she can't wait for her college career to begin and to soak in every second of those four years at Kentucky. She knows how fast those years go by and she just wants to enjoy every little moment as a Wildcat.
"That's why I love the sport of gymnastics because you can always get better each day," Albores said. "My dream came true and I can't wait to go live it out at Kentucky."