Anna and Grace Glenn, rising juniors at South Mecklenburg High School, were just months old when they were adopted from China by Neil and Cindi Glenn. Now 16 years old, the twin sisters have accomplished more than most do in a lifetime.
On the outside, their life appears pretty normal. They’re straight-A honor roll students at South Meck, love hanging out with their friends or going to Friday night football games and are eagerly awaiting getting their driver’s licenses.
But in reality, their life is far from normal. Anna and Grace are two of the best gymnasts in the country – training more than 24 hours a week at Southeastern Gymnastics in Weddington – and both became Level 10 gymnasts at just 13 years old and were the first high school freshmen in the country to receive full gymnastics scholarship offers from UCLA, where they’ll attend after graduation.
The sisters began training at Southeastern Gymnastics under former Soviet National Team Coach Ludmilla Shobe when they were just 2 years old. Shobe, who coached three-time Olympian Sveltana Bouguinskaia before opening Southeastern Gymnastics, was recently inducted to the Region 8 Hall of Fame.
“I’ve known (the Glenns) since they were little,” Shobe said. “That’s what makes this relationship so special. We’ve grown together and I’ve watched them grow over the years, and I’m not just their coach anymore but we’re a big family here.”
The girls began competing as Level 4 gymnasts by the age of 8 and showcased their natural talent and potential for the first time competitively at the Capitol City Classic in Groveport, Ohio. Gymnasts compete in four events – floor exercise, balance beam, vault and uneven bars. Both girls shine on the beam and Grace has a particular knack for the vault.
Grace placed first on the uneven bars, balance beam and all-around at the Capitol City Classic while Anna finished third in the all-around. Not bad for their first major competition.
The girls quickly moved up to Level 5 and by age 10, both Anna and Grace were competing at Level 7. At the Level 7 Championships, Grace captured gold medals in the uneven bars, balance beam and all-around while finishing first again on the uneven bars at the Region 8 Invitational, securing her spot on the North Carolina Level 7 Team. Anna’s efforts were nearly as successful as she took silver on uneven bars, fourth on floor exercise and eighth overall.
By 2012, shortly after their 14th birthday, the sensational sisters moved up to compete at Level 10 – the highest level in the Junior Olympic sanction of USA Gymnastics, the sports’ governing body. The gymnast must score at least a 34.00 all-around at Level 9 in order to compete as a Level 10 gymnast, which the girls accomplished at the Level 9 Regionals where Anna scored 37.725 and Grace totaled 37.825.
The scholarship offers started pouring in as the girls were in the middle of their freshmen year of high school. By January of 2013, the Glenns announced that they’d be attending UCLA on a full scholarship.
Grace and Anna credited the family at Southeastern and the encouragement of Shobe in catapulting them to the top of the gymnastics competitive scene and helping them accomplish what most gymnasts only dream of.
“We’re a very unique gym,” Grace said. “We have a lot of Level 10 girls and we’re all by each others’ side every day helping each other pursue our dreams.”
During the school year, the Glenns leave South Meck as the final bell rings to begin practice at 3 p.m., where they stay for four or five hours. After arriving home around 7:30 or 8 p.m., the girls do their homework, go to bed and are back up at 6 a.m. to get ready for school. The girls practice on Saturdays as well as in the summer, when their schedule is just as intense as four to five hour practices stay on the books alongside various gymnastics camps that keep them busy for weeks at a time.
“It’s definitely a lot of hard work and commitment,” Anna said. “You really have to want it, otherwise it will be miserable for you. But we know what we’re capable of and what we’ve committed to so it makes it easier. It’s just routine for us and all the gymnasts (at Southeastern).”
It’s that kind of dedication and determination that helped Grace reach the pinnacle of gymnastics in May at the 2014 Women’s Junior Olympic National Championships, where she competed in the Junior D Division, determined by birth date. Grace captured the all-around gold with a score of 38.675 while also becoming the top-scorer on the beam with a near-perfect score of 9.775. For the third year in a row, Grace secured her spot as a Junior Olympic National Team member.
Anna competed at the national level as well, where she finished sixth all-around (38.275) and second on the beam (9.750). The duo competed alongside 10 of their Southeastern teammates at Junior Olympics – more than any club in the state.
Shobe, who’s currently coaching 15 Level 10 gymnasts with Division-I scholarships, said she couldn’t be prouder of the accomplishments of the Glenn sisters as well as all the Level 10 gymnasts at Southeastern.
“We do what we do because we enjoy it,” she said. “It’s a hard job and it’s dedication but we enjoy each other. It makes me proud as a coach because it’s possible to be dedicated, work hard, achieve something but also have fun.”
With two years left at South Meck and Southeastern Gym, the Glenn sisters will likely continue bringing the gold home to Charlotte. They’re currently spending the week at UCLA’s gymnastics camp and are on their way to becoming Elite Gymnasts.
“We’re really lucky,” Grace said. “We have so much fun doing this and we’re seeing a lot of hard work pay off.”