Kiana Winston has had more than enough time to perfect her craft. She started her gymnastics training at just 3 years old, competed as an elite at Texas Dreams Gymnastics and is now a junior on the University of Alabama team.
But in her mind, there’s still one challenge left.
“I can’t be little Kiana in a little hut,” the 5-foot Texas native said. “I have to just show it’s time for the real world.”
When it comes to being completely open and confident, she doesn’t feel quite there yet, but she will be. Her teammates and coaches have seen her make strides to come out of her shell. They’re just waiting for her to be on the same page.
Because internally, Winston still wrestles with the timid freshman she used to be.
“I really just wanted to go out there and make sure I was doing everything to please everyone, instead of just being me and not being afraid to make mistakes,” Winston said.
Despite her doubts, that’s where she is now: finally comfortable with herself.
“That’s why she’s so good,” freshman Wynter Childers said. “She just really has no worries. She does her stuff.”
And it works.
This season, Winston has been the Crimson Tide’s strongest all-around competitor. Nationally, she’s ranked eighth with a 39.475 average score. She’s also fourth on the floor exercise, averaging a 9.936, and tied for fifth on the balance beam, averaging a 9.892.
Better yet, Winston is one of just four gymnasts in the nation to score a perfect 10 on floor.
“I can’t imagine what she was feeling,” freshman Maddie Desch said. “But as a teammate, I can say it was such a proud moment.”
Patience got Winston to that point.
Knowing when to stop was the hardest adjustment that followed her switch from elite to collegiate. There are reasons Winston can’t push too hard.
“She’s overcoming a lot of things physically,” UA head coach Dana Duckworth said. “If I gave you the list, people would be scared.”
It ranges from her shoulders to her ankles, and Winston needs to listen to her body. She can’t just keep going like she used to – rep after rep after rep. That could backfire.
Quality over quantity is the mantra, one Winston has accepted and embraced.
“She gets hard on herself when she makes mistakes,” Duckworth said. “But she still smiles, and it lights up a room.”
That’s the kind of progress people around Winston have noticed. They have full faith in her. She’s quiet, but she’s a leader.
If anything, Winston is actually the one who keeps her teammates loose and reminds them to have fun. Her personality is contagious.
“She’s definitely helped me realize that you can’t take this too seriously,” junior Nickie Guerrero said. “She does her absolute best when she’s having fun and not even thinking about what she’s about to do.”
To that, Winston would shrug because Guerrero isn’t wrong. Winston completely clears her head of anything gymnastics-related before performing. She just takes a deep breath and trusts her training.
“If she can find it, that complete utter confidence, whoa baby – it’s going to be fun to watch,” Duckworth said.
No. 17 Auburn at No. 6 Alabama
When: 7: 30 p.m.
Where: Coleman Coliseum
Records: Alabama 3-4, SEC 2-3; Auburn 0-7, SEC 0-4
TV: SEC Network