Q&A: Behind-the-Scenes With the Illinois Gymnasts Making History in Rio - NBC Chicago
2016 Rio Olympic Games

2016 Rio Olympic Games

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Q&A: Behind-the-Scenes With the Illinois Gymnasts Making History in Rio

Individual and group rhythmic gymnasts leave the comfort of their Illinois gym to make history

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    NEWSLETTERS

    From Glenview to Rio, these six gymnasts from suburban Chicago aren't just a team, they're a sisterhood. And they're about to make history. 

    The women from North Shore Gymnastics Center are the first U.S. rhythmic gymnastics group to earn a spot in the Olympic Games. They will be joined in Rio by Illinoisan Laura Zeng, the first U.S. rhythmic gymnast to win World Cup medals.

    NBC Chicago took a behind-the-scenes look into the lives of the young women of North Shore, who hope to take Rio by storm. 

    Laura Zeng, 16 (Individual Gymnast)
    Hometown: Originally from Libertyville

    NBC: Describe in three words the moment you found out you qualified for the Olympics?
    Zeng: Elated, speechless, proud

    NBC: What meal do you eat before a big performance?
    Zeng: Not sure if I have a specific meal, but I eat a little chocolate right before I go out onto the carpet!

    NBC: What would be a good theme song for your life?
    Zeng: [The song of my life would be] “Kung Fu Fighting” or “Just Keep Swimming.”

    NBC: What is one thing people would be surprised to know about you?
    Zeng: I can quote from every episode of Friends!

    NBC: Name one thing on your bucket list.
    Zeng: So many things to do! Fly in a hot-air balloon or try molecular gastronomy.

    NBC: What is your favorite social media platform?
    Zeng: Depends on my mood and the day, but definitely between Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat.

    NBC: What’s your reward after a successful performance?
    Zeng: A yummy meal and a day off with a TV marathon too.

    NBC: If you only had $10, what would you spend it on?
    Zeng: A movie at the theater

    NBC: What is your favorite page to follow on Instagram?
    Zeng: Humans of New York!

    NBC: What’s the best advice you have received?
    Zeng: “Block out all the noise.”

    NBC: Do you have any phobias?
    Zeng: All bugs!

    NBC: What’s your favorite thing in your closet right now?
    Zeng: A maxi summer dress I bought with my sister, who is a fashion designer

    Kiana Eide, 17 (Group Gymnast)
    Hometown: Originally from St. Francis, Minn.

    NBC: Why did you make the move to Illinois and North Shore Gymnastics Center?
    Eide: [I moved] because I thought it was an opportunity of a lifetime and it was a dream of mine to be on the senior group.

    NBC: Do you all have a team name? If not, what would you all go by?
    Eide
    : “Melting Pot”

    NBC: Describe in three words the moment you found out you qualified for the Olympics?
    Eide: Dreams come true

    NBC: What quote do you live by?
    Eide: You live and you learn

    NBC: Who is your favorite person to follow on Instagram?
    Eide: Team USA!

    NBC: What meal do you eat before you compete?
    Eide: We usually eat a hearty salad to sustain our energy.

    NBC: What would be a good theme song for your life?
    Eide: [The song of my life would be] “Where is the love?” by The Black Eyed Peas.

    NBC: Who is your inspiration?
    Eide: My parents

    Alisa Kano, 21 (Group Gymnast)
    Hometown: Originally from New York, N.Y.

    NBC: Why did you make the move to Illinois and North Shore Gymnastics Center?
    Kano: [I moved] to join Group. I changed my whole life. Even though I didn’t know what to expect, I knew if I didn't take a leap of faith or I would regret it for the rest of my life. 

    NBC: Describe in three words the moment you found out you qualified for the Olympics?
    Kano: Impossible, dumbfounded and ecstatic

    NBC: Do you all have a team name? If not, what would you all go by?
    Kano: “School of fish.”

    NBC: What is your favorite social media platform?
    Kano: Instagram

    NBC: What is your current pop culture obsession?
    Kano: Pokémon Go

    NBC: Do you have any phobias?
    Kano: Bees and holes

    NBC: What would be a good theme song for your life?
    Kano: [The song of my life would be] “Defying Gravity.”

    NBC: Who is your inspiration?
    Kano: My parents/brother

    Natalie McGiffert, 19 (Group Gymnast)
    Hometown: Originally from Topanga, Calif.

    NBC: Why did you make the move to Illinois and the North Shore Gymnastics Center?
    McGiffert: I moved because it was a once in a lifetime opportunity that I would have had regrets about if I didn't take.

    NBC: Describe in three words the moment you found out you qualified for the Olympics?
    McGiffert: 'Oh my God'

    NBC: Do you all have a team name? If not, what would you all go by?
    McGiffert: Not too long ago I started calling us the 'Sisterhood of the traveling ribbons'

    NBC: Can you describe in three words the bond amongst the group?
    McGiffert: Tightly-knit, sisterhood, goofballs

    NBC: What is the one thing that people would be surprised to know about you?
    McGiffert: I have an extreme obsession with sloths.

    NBC: If you could bring one food item to a deserted island, what would it be?
    McGiffert: Bear Claws from Panera

    NBC: What would be a good theme song for your life?
    McGiffert: [The song of my life would be] “Sweet Disposition” by The Temper Trap.

    NBC: Who is your inspiration?
    McGiffert: My inspiration is my dad. He is everything I aspire to be as a friend to anyone I encounter in my life. He's had such an incredible life and has so many stories that have really inspired me to be adventurous and always expect the best out of every situation.

    Jennifer Rokhman (Group Gymnast)
    Hometown: Originally from Northbrook

    NBC: Describe in three words the moment you found out you qualified for the Olympics?
    Jennifer Rokhman: In utter shock.

    NBC: Do you all have a team name? If not, what would you all go by?
    J. Rokhman: “Groupies”

    NBC: Name one thing on your bucket list.
    J. Rokhman: Meeting Ellen Degeneres

    NBC: What is the best advice you have received?
    J. Rokhman: “Remember you'll always regret what you didn't do rather than what you did.”

    NBC: What music pumps you up before you compete?
    J. Rokhman:
    EDM [Electronic Dance Music] 

    NBC: What would be a good theme song for your life?
    J. Rokhman: [The song of my life would be] “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” by Kelly Clarkson.  

    NBC: Who is your inspiration?
    J. Rokhman: My parents.

    Monica Rokhman, 19 (Group Gymnast)
    Hometown: Originally from Northbrook

    NBC: Describe in three words the moment you found out you qualified for the Olympics?
    Rokhman: Shocked beyond belief

    NBC: Do you all have a team name? If not, what would you all go by?
    Rokhman: The “melting pot” because of our diverse team.

    NBC: What's your reward after a successful performance?
    Rokhman: Day off with friends

    NBC: If you were given $10 what would you spend it on?
    Rokhman: Makeup!

    NBC: What's your favorite thing in your closet right now?
    Rokhman: My super soft blue cardigan from Nordstrom Rack.

    NBC: What would be a good theme song for your life?
    Rokhman: [The song of my life would be] “Imagine” by John Lennon.

    NBC: Who is your inspiration?
    Rokhman: My mom

    Kristen Shaldybin, 18 (Group Gymnast)
    Hometown: Originally from Brooklyn, N.Y.

    NBC: Why did you make the move to Illinois and North Shore Gymnastics Center?
    Shaldybin: [I moved] for my own benefit in rhythmic gymnastics and to be a part of group.

    NBC: Describe in three words the moment you found out you qualified for the Olympics?
    Shaldybin: Shock, excitement, happiness

    NBC: Do you all have a team name? If not, what would you all go by?
    Shaldybin: Our team name is "Groupies."

    NBC: Can you describe in three words the bond amongst the group?
    Shaldybin: Strong, positive, and sisters

    NBC: What would be a good theme song for your life?
    Shaldybin: [The song of my life would be] “You Raise Me Up” by Josh Groban.

    NBC: Who is your inspiration?
    Shaldybin: My inspiration is my dad, [who] was a professional hockey player.

    NBC: If you could bring one food item to a deserted island, what would it be?
    Shaldybin: Ice cream

    In a northern Chicago suburb is a gymnastics center that holds a sisterhood of women headed to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. 
    At the North Shore Gymnastics Center in Glenview, Illinois six women make up the first U.S. rhythmic gymnastics group to earn a spot in the Olympic Games. The group of gymnasts consists of Kiana Eide, Alisa Kano, Natalie McGiffert, Monica Rokhman and Kristen Shaldybin. Jennifer Rokhman will serve as the alternate for the group due to the Games allowing five members to perform. 
    The group made an impression on the spectators since the foundation of their bond during the qualification rounds of the 2012 London Olympic Games. Four years later the group has proven that their talents together are valuable of a qualification. 
    In the same center is the first U.S. rhythmic gymnast to win World Cup medals and Illinois local, Laura Zeng. In her career, she has made impressive strides in every competition including the 2015 Pan American games where she won the most medals across all sports and countries. 
    NBC 5 Chicago had the pleasure to get a look into the lives of young women of North Shore, who will take Rio by storm. Learn more about our local gymnasts below. 
    Laura Zeng, 16 (Individual Gymnast) 
    Hometown: Originally from Libertyville 
    NBC: Describe in three words the moment you found out you qualified for the Olympics?               
    Laura Zeng: Elated, speechless, proud 
    NBC: What meal do you eat before a big performance?                
    Zeng: Not sure if I have a specific meal, but I eat a little chocolate right before I go out onto the carpet! 
    NBC: What would be a good theme song for your life?                        
    Zeng: [The song of my life would be] “Kung Fu Fighting” or “Just Keep Swimming.” 
    NBC: What is one thing people would be surprised to know about you?          
    Zeng: I can quote from every episode of Friends!
    NBC: Name one thing on your bucket list.     
    Zeng: So many things to do! Fly in a hot-air balloon or try molecular gastronomy. 
    NBC: What is your favorite social media platform?     
    Zeng: Depends on my mood and the day, but definitely between Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat. 
    NBC: What’s your reward after a successful performance?          
    Zeng: A yummy meal and a day off with a TV marathon too.
    NBC: If you only had $10, what would you spend it on?           
    Zeng: A movie at the theater 
    NBC: What is your favorite page to follow on Instagram?             
    Zeng: Humans of New York! 
    NBC: What’s the best advice you have received?              
    Zeng: “Block out all the noise.”  
    NBC: Do you have any phobias?              
    Zeng: All bugs! 
    NBC: What’s your favorite thing in your closet right now?                
    Zeng: A maxi summer dress I bought with my sister, who is a fashion designer 
    Kiana Eide, 17 (Group Gymnast)
    Hometown: Originally from St. Francis, Minn.
    NBC: Why did you make the move to Illinois and North Shore Gymnastics Center?
    Kiana Eide: [I moved] because I thought it was an opportunity of a lifetime and it was a dream of mine to be on the senior group.
    NBC: Do you all have a team name? If not, what would you all go by?
    Eide: “Melting Pot”
    NBC: Describe in three words the moment you found out you qualified for the Olympics?         
    Eide: Dreams come true
    NBC: What quote do you live by?
    Eide: You live and you learn
    NBC: Who is your favorite person to follow on Instagram?
    Eide: Team USA!
    NBC: What meal do you eat before you compete?
    Eide: We usually eat a hearty salad to sustain our energy.
    NBC: What would be a good theme song for your life?
    Eide: [The song of my life would be] “Where is the love?” by The Black Eyed Peas. 
    NBC: Who is your inspiration?
    Eide: My parents
    Alisa Kano, 21 (Group Gymnast)
    Hometown: Originally from New York, N.Y. 
    NBC: Why did you make the move to Illinois and North Shore Gymnastics Center?       
    Alisa Kano: [I moved] to join Group. I changed my whole life. Even though I didn’t know what to expect, I knew if I didn't take a leap of faith or I would regret it for the rest of my life. 
    NBC:  Describe in three words the moment you found out you qualified for the Olympics?              
    Kano: Impossible, dumbfounded and ecstatic  
    NBC: Do you all have a team name? If not, what would you all go by?             
    Kano: “School of fish.” 
    NBC: What is your favorite social media platform?                           
    Kano: Instagram
    NBC: What is your current pop culture obsession?                     
    Kano: Pokémon Go
    NBC: Do you have any phobias?              
    Kano: Bees and holes 
    NBC: What would be a good theme song for your life?               
    Kano: [The song of my life would be] “Defying Gravity.” 
    NBC: Who is your inspiration?                     
    Kano: My parents/brother 
    Natalie McGiffert, 19 (Group Gymnast)
    Hometown: Originally from Topanga, Calif. 
    NBC: Why did you make the move to Illinois and the North Shore Gymnastics Center?
    Natalie McGiffert: I moved because it was a once in a lifetime opportunity that I would have had regrets about if I didn't take. 
    NBC: Describe in three words the moment you found out you qualified for the Olympics? 
    McGiffert: 'Oh my God' 
    NBC: Do you all have a team name? If not, what would you all go by? 
    McGiffert: Not too long ago I started calling us the 'Sisterhood of the traveling ribbons' 
    NBC: Can you describe in three words the bond amongst the group?
    McGiffert: Tightly-knit, sisterhood, goofballs
    NBC: What is the one thing that people would be surprised to know about you? 
    McGiffert: I have an extreme obsession with sloths.
    NBC: If you could bring one food item to a deserted island, what would it be? 
    McGiffert: Bear Claws from Panera
    NBC: What would be a good theme song for your life? 
    McGiffert: [The song of my life would be] “Sweet Disposition” by The Temper Trap. 
    NBC: Who is your inspiration? 
    McGiffert: My inspiration is my dad. He is everything I aspire to be as a friend to anyone I encounter in my life. He's had such an incredible life and has so many stories that have really inspired me to be adventurous and always expect the best out of every situation. 
    Monica Rokhman, 19 (Group Gymnast)
    Hometown: Originally from Northbrook
    NBC: Describe in three words the moment you found out you qualified for the Olympics? 
    Rokhman: Shocked beyond belief 
    NBC: Do you all have a team name? If not, what would you all go by? 
    Monica Rokhman: The “melting pot” because of our diverse team. 
    NBC: What's your reward after a successful performance? 
    Rokhman: Day off with friends 
    NBC: If you were given $10 what would you spend it on? 
    Rokhman: Makeup!
    NBC: What's your favorite thing in your closet right now? 
    Rokhman: My super soft blue cardigan from Nordstrom Rack. 
    NBC: What would be a good theme song for your life? 
    Rokhman: [The song of my life would be] “Imagine” by John Lennon. 
    NBC: Who is your inspiration? 
    Rokhman: My mom 
    Kristen Shaldybin, 18 (Group Gymnast)
    Hometown: Originally from Brooklyn, N.Y.
    NBC: Why did you make the move to Illinois and North Shore Gymnastics Center?
    Kristen Shaldybin: [I moved] for my own benefit in rhythmic gymnastics and to be a part of group. 
    NBC: Describe in three words the moment you found out you qualified for the Olympics? 
    Shaldybin: Shock, excitement, happiness 
    NBC: Do you all have a team name? If not, what would you all go by?
    Shaldybin: Our team name is "Groupies."
    NBC: Can you describe in three words the bond amongst the group?
    Shaldybin: Strong, positive, and sisters
    NBC: What would be a good theme song for your life?
    Shaldybin: [The song of my life would be] “You Raise Me Up” by Josh Groban.
    NBC: Who is your inspiration?
    Shaldybin: My inspiration is my dad, [who] was a professional hockey player. 
    NBC: If you could bring one food item to a deserted island, what would it be?
    Shaldybin: Ic

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