Recently we came across the Perfect Balance Gymnastics Series while searching for quality gymnastics books to recommend to our readers. In doing our research we found out that Melisa Torres, the author of the series, was a gymnast herself which made us even more interested in learning more about her and her books!
Often the gymnastics books available to children are not written from the perspective of someone whose been through the trenches herself and can miss the mark ever so slightly. However, these Perfect Balance Gymnastics books are a clear exception and prove that Melisa does indeed know what she’s writing about, having personally experienced a lot of the topics she discusses in her books.
In our interview with Melisa, not only did she give us great information about each of her books, she also gave us some amazing tips that we wanted to share with our GymnasticsHQ community. Melisa was a competitive Level 9 gymnast and she also went on to compete at the collegiate level as a floor specialist. Her struggles are relatable for many gymnasts and her story can give hope to those who dream of competing at a higher level one day.
Without further ado, read our interview with Melisa Torres below.
About Melisa Torres as a Gymnast:
GymnasticsHQ: Tell us about your gymnastics journey (how you started, how far you went, etc.)
Melisa: I started at the age of 8, but at that time my focus was on soccer and softball. I went only once a week until a coach noticed my potential and put me on pre-team at the advanced age of 11. From then on, gymnastics was my world and I LOVED it. I moved up a level almost every year (repeating only Level 8) becoming a Level 9 as a senior in high school. I had Level 10 caliber floor, so I was fortunate enough to make a college team as a specialist. I was on the Utah State University team for all four years of college and said a very sad good-bye to the sport at the age of 22.
GymnasticsHQ: What were your dreams and goals as far as gymnastics when you were a child? Did you want to go to the Olympics, college, etc.?
Melisa: Getting a late start and being a pragmatic child, I knew I was not good enough for the Olympics. I saw kids in my gym half my age and twice as good and even they weren’t good enough for “the ranch.” There were elites from my gym getting scholarships to UCLA and Oregon State, and they were so good, I assumed I wasn’t good enough for college either. I just loved the sport and wanted to do it for as long as I possibly could, and for me, I assumed that was until I graduated high school.
GymnasticsHQ: Was there ever a time when you almost quit gymnastics and why?
Melisa: Yes, I hit a crossroads before I entered high school. As an eighth grader I was competing Level 6 and doing cheer for my junior high. I was very successful as a cheerleader and the high school cheer team made it clear they wanted me on the team. My mother sat me down and told me I needed to choose. We saw how the hours were going to increase for both Level 7 and high school cheer, I could no longer do both. Which one did I want to do? I had no bigger picture that I could do either sport in college, I was just picking which one made me more happy. Gymnastics had my heart, it always had, and always would. So I gave up my social status at school for more hours in the gym and whole heartily embraced my gym friends.
GymnasticsHQ: A common struggle our readers have are mental blocks. Have you ever overcome a mental block and if so, how did you do it? And did this experience influence any experiences of the characters in your books?
Melisa: I was a cautious gymnast and I had many mental blocks. For me, backing down the progression when my brain was being difficult worked really well. I was a two-steps forward, one-step back kind of kid. I had to put in a lot of numbers to feel comfortable with almost any skill. As I got older I learned the forward skills (front tumbling, front landings, etc) were easier for me mentally so I worked more of those skills.
I am currently working on book 7 and in this story Trista is struggling mentally with a flyaway. I am drawing from personal experience to describe her frustration. I am also drawing from my experience as a coach for how she finally learns the skill.
GymnasticsHQ: Our readers often tell us they do well in practice but then struggle in competition because of nerves. What are your best tips for overcoming nerves during competition?
Melisa: Positive self talk and blocking out the static, concentrate. I used to always tell myself it was just an easy workout, one stuck routine and I’m done. I also used to talk myself through the routine in my head, now they call it mental choreography. At the time, I was just keeping my mind from wondering to bad or distracting thoughts. I have some examples of this in book 6 when Carmen talks herself through routines.
GymnasticsHQ: Did you have any pre-meet rituals?
Melisa: I was so nervous on meet days I couldn’t eat well, so I would have a baked potato for breakfast. It was the only thing that would stick with me all day.
Tips for Gymnasts Who Want to Do College Gymnastics:
GymnasticsHQ: Do you have 3 tips for young gymnasts who eventually want to do gymnastics in college?
Three tips are to be a hard working athlete, solid student, and positive teammate.
I assumed colleges were only looking at the best Level 10s. And, of course, they are looking for top Level 10s, however, they can’t always get an entire roster of nationally ranked Level 10s. They are also seeking something else to round out their team. They look for athletes who are coachable, who will keep learning after high school. They are looking for good students who will be able to handle collegiate student-athlete life with ease. They are looking for girls who can be leaders on the team, who can push those top teammates to keep improving and not burn out. And they are looking for specialists who can step in and let those All-Arounders rest or recover from injuries throughout the season.
GymnasticsHQ: What was the college recruiting process like? Did you seek out colleges or did they seek out you?
Melisa: I had no idea I had the potential for college, like I said, I was a senior in Level 9. I had seen college coaches come to meets to watch my teammates, but not me. One day in the summer before my senior year my coach, Neal Gallant (currently the Stanford assistant coach), said, “Do you want to do gymnastics in college?” I looked at him and said, “I didn’t know I could.” I was shocked this was even an option. He said, “Sure, let’s put together a tape.” And we spent a few days filming what I was working on and sent out the tapes. I have to be honest, I didn’t get much response, but he got me thinking that it was possible.
In the fall, I watched other seniors sign schools. That fall signing is called, “the first round.” Similar to an NFL draft, these were the top picks. Once that first round was done, I saw that coaches started noticing me. It helped that Level 9s often compete in the same session with 10s, so they would see me on floor even if they were there for the 10s. In particular, we were at a meet up in Logan, Utah, at the Utah State University campus. The head coach, Coach Ray Corn, noticed me on floor and started asking questions to my coaches. “Is she a good student? Is she a good teammate?” The answers must have been good because as soon as my session was over he grabbed me and my parents and gave us a personal tour of Utah State and his gymnastics program. He asked me to go home and make a tape so his assistants could see my floor routine and he wanted to see what new skills I was working on. I did just that and sent the new tape to UC Davis and UC Santa Barbara while I was at it. I learned that I had something to offer, but I had to sell myself.
In March, the second round signing came and went without an offer for me. But, once that round was done, coaches still had to fill out their teams with walk-on offers. In gymnastics the walk-ons don’t try out, they get invited to be on the team in the spring of their senior year. I got two walk-on offers from division 1 teams, UC Davis and Utah State University. I chose Utah State for it’s nationally ranked program, wanting to push myself as a floor specialist. I ended up training vault, beam, and floor every day for four years at Utah State, but mostly competing floor. By my senior year I consistently started off our team on floor and was part of a record-breaking nationally-ranked floor team in ’97 and ’98. It was a wonderful experience I almost didn’t get to have. I am grateful to both Neal Gallant and Ray Corn for seeing my potential.
More About the Perfect Balance Series:
GymnasticsHQ: Tell us about each of the books in your Perfect Balance series and who (what gymnast) they are appropriate for. Are there situations in the books that gymnastics going through different struggles would relate to?
Melisa: My goal for the overall series is to reinforce the life lessons that gymnastics teaches, to give gymnasts authentic stories, and to get kids reading. I try to tackle one or two relatable topics per book and most gymnasts will identify with all of them.
Books 1 to 4 target gymnasts ages 7-11 and books 5 through 7 target ages 9-13. The characters age and the reading level increase as the series progresses.
Book 1: I’ve Got This! – an introduction to gymnastics and the character’s experience trying to make the team.
Trista Thompson has just moved to Snowcap Canyon, Utah, where she enrolls in gymnastics for the first time. As an accomplished tumbler, Trista believes learning the other three events and becoming a competitive gymnast will be easy. Trista quickly learns that gymnastics requires hard work and believing in herself. Despite that, she decides she wants to make the Level 3 team. On her determined journey Trista meets friends who help her learn about the sport and share her passion for gymnastics. Will hard work and dedication be enough to make Level 3?
Book 2: Nothing Better Than Gym Friends – the character is struggling with school friends and jitters on beam.
Savannah has an exciting day coming up. Her first gymnastics meet followed by her teammate’s birthday party. Except Savannah can’t seem to stay on beam in practice and she doesn’t feel ready for the meet. Then she finds out she has been invited to another birthday party the same day as Marissa’s. All of a sudden the big day she has been looking forward to for weeks is full of problems. How is she going to perform in the meet and which party should she choose?
Book 3: Dance is the Secret Event – the character is struggling to fit in on her own team as the oldest.
At age 10, Paige Green is the oldest girl on the Level 3 Team at Perfect Balance Gymnastics Academy. In practice she struggles to fit in. Paige secretly likes dance class and wants to beat her teammates and win the All-Around at State Meet. If the girls find out her secrets she is never going to fit in. But at State Meet her team is falling apart and Paige learns that winning as a team is more important than the All-Around. But is it too late to pull this group together?
Book 4: Brothers Have Talent, Too – the character wants to be recognized by school friends and her family.
Alexis is the youngest sibling in a large Mormon family of five children. With four athletic older brothers it’s hard to stand out. Even gymnastics isn’t her own thing. Her brother, Drew, is a gymnast too.
When her school announces a talent show Alexis knows this is her chance to shine. Alexis enlists the help of her teammates from Perfect Balance Gymnastics Academy to be in the show with her. Together they work hard to create a dazzling gymnastics and dance routine.
But Alexis’ plans are shattered when she learns that only students from her school are allowed in the show. None of her teammates go to her school. What will she do? Teach the routine to friends at school? Perform a solo?
Whatever she decides she knows she has to act fast. And the only ones that can help her change her routine on such short notice are her brothers. Do they have enough talent to help her pull this off without her teammates?
Book 5: The Kip – the character struggles to learn her kip and realizes she has to make extra time for gymnastics.
Marissa is a gymnast, violinist, and chess player. This summer she is busy in an orchestra, chess tournament, and learning her Level 4 gymnastics skills.
In the past, doing all three activities has been a snap for Marissa. She is hardworking and smart. But this summer she can’t seem to get her kip, a difficult skill on bars. If she doesn’t learn a kip she won’t be competing Level 4 in the fall with her friends at Perfect Balance Gymnastics Academy.
As the summer progresses, it’s not looking good. Everyone else is getting their kip except for Marissa. What will she do if her friends move on without her?
Book 6: Score Out – the character struggles to score a 34 All-Around while her parents struggle to pay for all the fees that come with gymnastics.
Carmen Alvarez is new to competitive gymnastics, and it isn’t quite what she expected. Her Level 4 season is having a rough start with silly mistakes and several falls. Carmen continues to work hard. But just when she has competition figured out, she learns she must score a 34.00 All-Around to be eligible for Level 5.
What will Carmen do if her season ends without getting the coveted 34.00 All-Around? Can she talk her family and coaches into letting her attend one more meet to try to get the score? And if she can get to another meet, will she be able to score out?
I am currently drafting book 7 (no name yet). The character is struggling with mental blocks for the first time. I am also addressing safe sport practices in an age-appropriate way with the help of a child psychologist.
GymnasticsHQ: In Dance Is The Secret Event book, the character is the oldest girl in the class and struggles to fit in. Some of our readers struggle with this also. Did you draw on any personal experiences as a gymnast or coach when writing this book?
Melisa: In all of the books I draw on my experience as either an athlete, coach, or parent. In Dance is the Secret Event I very much drew from my experience as a Class IV (what would now be a Level 3) when I was 12. Most of my teammates where 7 or 8 and they drove me crazy in dance class! I was always the oldest and did not feel like I fit in, but eventually found my role as the leader.
GymnasticsHQ: In The Kip book, the character struggles to get her kip while everyone else is getting theirs and if she doesn’t get it she won’t get to compete at the next level. Did you draw on any personal experiences as a gymnast or coach when writing about this? If it was a personal experience as a gymnast, how did you overcome that struggle?
Melisa: The kip took me forever! I think this is the only skill my parents ever learned the name of. The only way to overcome a kip is to keep doing a zillion of them. I learned that both as an athlete and as a coach. The part in the story where Trista gets her kip to her armpits and kicks up, that was me as a kid. The part where Marissa fritters away her summer and then got behind, that was many kids I coached. That skill sneaks up on the talented kids who are used to just getting skills without a ton of effort. It takes effort from them all!
What Impact Has Gymnastics Had on Melisa’s Life?
GymnasticsHQ: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Melisa: One other thing I would like to add is that this sport has a positive impact regardless of how far a child takes it. Even if she doesn’t make it to college or high school, she is learning grit. Gymnasts become high functioning adults who know how to manage their time, manage themselves, they know how to work, they have courage and strength. I would never have finished one book, much less six, had I not been a gymnast. I learned how to work at something every day. I learned how to set realistic goals and not listen to people who said the books would not succeed. Gymnasts learn grace and confidence for life, and that is something to celebrate.
The Perfect Balance Gymnastics Series is a great read for the gymnasts in your life, ages 7-13, who are passionate about gymnastics. In fact, these books make a great birthday or holiday present for that special gymnast in your life. Melisa’s goal of getting young girls reading is met perfectly through her gymnastics series that hits on real life topics that gymnasts face at one point in their gymnastics career or another. In addition, her books contain adorable illustrations of gymnasts doing skills like the one below. This is sure to please your gymnast! If you haven’t already, check out the Perfect Balance Gymnastics Series today.
Are you already a fan of Melisa’s books? Check out her Reader of the Month club for gymnasts who have found the love of reading through the Perfect Balance books and want to be highlighted on social media. Gymnasts chosen as reader of the month will receive a bookmark to keep reading, a notebook to keep writing, and a bracelet to keep shining!
To learn more about Melisa Torres, check out her website melisatorres.com.