Kiana Winston has such a sweet smile it’s contagious. The Alabama senior gymnast had her braces removed more than a year ago and has no reservations when it comes to showing off her pearly whites. Even in the middle of a routine, she’ll flash them.
There is, however, a little mischief behind what looks so innocent.
“I love the fear of the unknown,” Winston said. “I’m like, ‘Oh, let’s see if I can do this double tuck off the beam and somehow to make it to my feet.’”
Almost always she makes it to her feet, at least in competition. Sometimes she’s even perfect in the process.
Winston is the only member on the Alabama roster who has scored a 10 in her career. She did so last year on the floor exercise against Florida. It was Alabama’s annual Power of Pink meet.
Her season highs are a 9.95 on the balance beam and floor, a 9.925 on the uneven bars and a 9.85 on vault. Winston was named the SEC specialist of the week three times and earned her third consecutive All-SEC honor.
“I have 100 percent trust that every time she goes up there, she’s up there to do it for her girls and to glorify God,” UA coach Dana Duckworth said. “That’s a big trust. No matter what happens.”
There are only four gymnasts who have competed in every meet this season. Winston is one of them. Out of her 39 routines, she has scored a 9.9 or better 19 times.
Also, Winston has competed all-around this season (39.55 season high), which only two of her teammates can boast.
Only Winston is never one to brag, or even truly recognize her talent level.
“I’ve been through so much with my seniors, especially with Kiana and what she’s gone through with just her personality and her internal confidence struggle,” fellow senior Nickie Guerrero said. “I just try to be there for her to really make sure she realizes she’s pretty much the best thing ever.”
The two have been inseparable really since their junior year. They’ve always been close, but hours of daily study hall brought them closer.
Before the beam competition, Winston and Guerrero have a handshake they do. Before floor, they hold hands – little moments of encouragement for every meet.
Then, Winston competes.
“What’s so beautiful is she’s a living example of someone who when she goes up there, she smiles because she’s grateful she gets to,” Duckworth said. “I will miss that smile.”
The Crimson Tide has a maximum of three meets left. The NCAA Tuscaloosa Regional is on April 7 at 4 p.m. in Coleman Coliseum. Then, if Alabama advances to its 36th-consecutive NCAA Championships, those will be on April 20-21. Afterward, that’s it.
Gymnastics has been a part of Winston’s life since she was 3 years old.
“Been doing it for 18 years, so hanging up my leotard at the end, it will be different because now I don’t really have anything to look forward to sport wise in my future life,” Winston said. “But now I get to look forward to being someone that helps the community and helps others in the field of social work. I’m ready for that.”
Winston actually graduated early in December with a degree in psychology. She has plans for graduate school but has not picked a destination yet. She minored in human development.
Along with all the competitive accolades, Winston is also a three-time Scholastic All-American and has been placed on the SEC Academic Honor Roll every year of her career.
“You can’t beat Kiana Winston,” Guerrero said.
But people will try since that’s how competition works.
So, while she’s flipping through the air and pulling off a skill no average human can, try to spot her smile. It’s there. That’s because she trusts her body enough to land where it’s supposed to completely unharmed.
“That’s what keeps me going,” Winston said. “Like, ‘Hmm, let’s see what I can do today.’”