Hometown Hopefuls: Road to Paris

Olympian Evita Griskenas asked to do gymnastics at age 4- just not the kind her mother signed her up for

Evita Griskenas became one of the first athletes on Team USA for the 2024 Games -- and the only one representing the U.S. in her sport

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When she was 4 years old, Evita Griskenas saw rhythmic gymnastics on TV for the first time. After persistently asking to try it herself, her mother finally agreed and took her to a gymnastics gym - there was just one problem.

It wasn't a rhythmic gymnastics gym.

Griskenas immediately knew it was the wrong type of gymnastics and refused to do anything- leaving her mother with no choice but to put her in a different class.

"She says she’s never been more embarrassed in her entire life because I take one look around the gym and I go, ‘This is the wrong gymnastics and I refused to do anything,’” Griskenas said.

Nineteen years later, Griskenas said she is even more in love with the sport than when she was a kid.

“I just love life at the end of the day, and [rhythmic gymnastics] makes me excited to live," she said.

Originally from Orland Park, Griskenas is the daughter of two elite athletes from Lithuania who immigrated to the United States. Despite their athletic past, Griskenas’ parents had no plans of putting her in sports at all.

“I guess it’s just a genetic thing. It's like something in the blood,” Griskenas said.

According to Griskenas, having parents who immigrated to the United States showed her that if there is an opportunity, she must take it.

“It really instilled a mentality in me of ‘make it work,’” Griskenas said.

For Griskenas and her family, there were times where they didn’t know how things were going to happen, but they knew they were going to work it out.

As a young rhythmic gymnast, Griskenas spent time drawing pictures of herself medaling in gymnastics, practicing her autograph, and singing herself to sleep with the national anthem while envisioning the United States flag
rising.

But being in the sport did not come without sacrifices, and for her mother that meant not working, waking up early for competitions, and finding the last scraps of money to pay for gas to make the hour and a half commute to the gym
in Deerfield.

“My mom had this hardcore faith in me,” Griskenas said. “She was just like, ‘You’re going to do this’.”

Griskenas said her mom was going to make those sacrifices, if Griskenas showed her that she was willing.

“It was always very much like, ‘Tell me to stop and we’re going to stop,’” Griskenas said.

Her father also offered his own insight as a former athlete, encouraging her to make memories, live in the moment and not allow her emotions to overtake her actions.

Griskenas described her coach Natalia Klimouk, who goes by Natasha, as being “like another parent” to her. She said Klimouk is a coach who cares about the athlete’s well-being and strikes a balance between pushing her out of her
comfort zone and stepping back on days where she’s tired.

Over time, Griskenas said, her and Klimouk have learned how to communicate and trust each other, especially when it came to learning how to train while also attending Columbia University in New York, where she studies psychology.

In 2021, Griskenas competed in the Tokyo Olympics, which she described as one of the best experiences of her life. She recalls having an emotional moment after finishing her final routine of the Games, as well as at the passing of
the flag ceremony.

“I remember seeing the French flag come up and looking at it and just going, ‘I have to stay,’” Griskenas said.

And that's exactly what she did, becoming one of the first athletes on Team USA for the 2024 Games -- and the only one representing the U.S. in her sport.

Despite challenges with health and the busy nature of balancing school and gymnastics, Griskenas knew inside that she wanted to continue competing.

“I had to very seriously sit there with myself and ask, ‘Why am I doing this?’” Griskenas said, “And at the end of the day, the conclusion is I love it.”

She said the feelings and emotions she gets, as well as the perseverance and tenacity she must exhibit, really shape her character and keep her coming back for more.

Now, competing in Paris gives her a continued sense of direction and motivation to keep working. She described her qualification to the Games as a, “mix of good emotion” and a “level of seriousness.”

Depending on the day, Griskenas trains between four and nine hours.

“You can always find something to work on,” Griskenas said.

She also said she is excited for there to be an audience, since there was little-to-no audience in Tokyo due to COVID.

She explained how rhythmic gymnastics is about an emotional exchange with people, and how the lack of audience made the Games feel more like a “control practice” at times. According to Griskenas, an audience can also help melt the nerves away.

“Sometimes the music will go and you hear people clapping and then you get into this wavelength almost with your music,” Griskenas said. “Then you’re able to have a smoother performance.”

Griskenas said having her family there in Paris to watch her compete will mean everything.

“I don’t even have the words,” Griskenas said.

Griskenas said that it will be especially interesting to be able to share her craft with her brother.

“When we were little, he would help me a lot,” Griskenas said. “He would listen to all of my rants, my insecurities, and he would always try to give me words of encouragement.”

Still, no matter how much she travels, Griskenas considers Chicago to be her home.

“Regardless of where I’m at, I come home. And when I come home, I come home to Chicago,” Griskenas said.

Griskenas knows she will always be welcome at home in Chicago, and attributes a lot of her success to her support system. While that includes her family and gym family, Griskenas said it also includes people around her who
support her in other ways, even mentioning how someone waving to her in the grocery store and asking how she’s doing acts as part of that support.

Griskenas’ message to viewers is that those little things add up, and they impact people, whether someone realizes it or not.

“It’s good to be a good person," she said.

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