Gymnastics, one of the most globally recognized and watched sports, is a combination of flexibility, strength and an acute kinesthetic sense. All three of these attributes resonate strongly within a young and globally recognized gymnast from Western New York: Hannah Walter.

For someone who has been immersed in gymnastics since the day she could walk, it doesn't come as a surprise that Hannah has been named to the 2011 U.S. National Gymnastics Team.

Her accomplishments don't stop there, though. Hannah, of Angola, is also the only national team member currently enrolled in college, and she is only 17.

Because she entered college a year early (she attended Mount Mercy Academy and Lake Shore High School, where she graduated a year early) and is still training six hours daily, her sense of balance comes in handy both in and out of the gym.

"Technology helps," said Hannah, who attends Erie Community College, about keeping organized. Also, "I am taking at least one online course a semester."

She has to take certain considerations in her dietary habits to keep in shape.

"Lots of fruits, veggies, protein and little carbs," she said, adding, "I love frozen blueberries."

Although currently ranked fifth in the nation, Hannah has not reached this position without a few setbacks.

Four years ago, the gymnastics center Hannah had been spending more than five days a week training in suddenly closed its doors.

"I [had to] travel over 60 to 90 minutes each way to attend classes -- from Buffalo to Erie, Pa.," she said.

Because Hannah is a rhythmic gymnast, some of her events require the projection of her apparatus to heights that most ceilings would restrict. But she was fortunate to find Gymnastics Unlimited in Orchard Park, where she currently trains.

With her mother and coach, Gail Walter, supporting her, Hannah was able to get where she is today.

"When I went to qualifier [for the first time], I just did my routines as the new kid on the block and I made 12th place to qualify at Visa [the top gymnastics competition in the country]," Hannah said. "No one knew who I was or where I came from I was the underdog and that performance made me realize I could [go to nationals].

"I want to amaze everyone with my routines and let people know what a wonderful Olympic sport rhythmic gymnastics is for girls and women. I would like to be an ambassador for my sport."

Hannah plans on majoring in chemistry and the performing arts. Her short-term goal is to go to China this summer to compete in the World University Games.

"Who knows?" she says, "the Olympics in London are only one and a half years away."


Alyssa Lanoye is a senior at Williamsville North High School.