Canadian-born Hong Kong Gymnastics Girl Wins Stanford Scholarship

Aleeza Yu signs for Stanford. (Aleeza Yu Twitter photo)

Aleeza Yu, a Canadian-born Hong Kong girl from Canada’s Ontario State High School has been awarded a full scholarship as a four-year honor roll student to study at the prestigious Stanford University in the US.  

It was not easy to fight for a full scholarship offered by the National Collegiate Athletic Association, which included over 20 sports categories form 1,100 high schools and is open to athletes of all races around the world. Stanford University has an admission rate of only 4.7 percent this year. 

Aleeza admitted that it was gymnastics that has given her a good opportunity. 

A born gymnast

Aleeza Yu on Balance Beam. (Courtesy of Aleeza Yu)

Aleeza Yu on Balance Beam. (Courtesy of Aleeza Yu)

Aleeza told her mother Sheree Yu that she wanted to learn gymnastics when she was 5 years old.  Sheree, an immigrant from Hong Kong first disagreed thinking that it would be very tedious for her daughter. 

But “there seems to be a voice inside calling for me to do it”, said Aleeza. At age 7, her relaxed and adept performance on the balancing beam surprised the coach during the aptitude test. She told the staff at a gymnasium in Newmarket, “I want to participate in the Olympics”. 

To help fulfill her daughter’s dream, Sheree enrolled her in the best gymnastics club tens of kilometres away from home at Oshawa where Aleeza’s father ran a physical therapy clinic. 

Aleeza’s gift was quickly recognized by the local education department who helped find a school that welcomed gifted students.

At 9, Aleeza joined the Ontario provincial team, won first prize in the all-around East Coast competition in Canada and was a member of the Ontario champion team. 

At 11, Aleeza entered the national level and competed in international games in subsequent years worldwide. In April 2014, she was in the Canadian senior national team which won a team silver medal at the Pacific Rim competition and added an individual bronze on the floor exercise.

“Aleeza is a beautiful gymnast and well-rounded scholar-athlete,” said Stanford head coach Kristen Smyth on Stanford website, “She is wonderfully artistic, extremely consistent, and has gorgeous lines. She is also a bright student and we are thrilled that she will be joining SWG next year.”

Racing against time

Aleeza Yu on Floor Exercise. (Courtesy of Aleeza Yu)

Aleeza Yu on Floor Exercise. (Courtesy of Aleeza Yu)

Aleeza began her packed daily schedule from 6:30 am to 10 pm since grade 3, with one lesson off in the afternoon for her gymnastics training, which ended between 7 and 9 pm. At weekends, she had Chinese dance and piano lessons and has passed her grade 8 piano examination.

Over the past decade, while training to be a top national gymnast. Aleeza did not neglect her studies, scoring 90 marks or above in all subjects at high school. She caught up the missing lessons mostly through personal online study.

Other than music and dance, Aleeza is also fond of reading, watching movies, cycling and is interested in discussing with her peers, current affairs and happenings in the celebrity circles. 

Aiming for Stanford

Realizing that the average career lifespan of a gymnast is around 20 years, and many retire after graduating from college, one needs to give serious consideration to a college education.

Both the school curriculum and gymnastics training became more demanding in grade 11, especially when the international competitions Aleeza took part in had higher technique requirements while preparing for college applications called for very good results. 

Aleeza had to choose between her favorite gymnastics which she knew very well was not a lifetime career and the mounting study pressure.

Though ranked in the top 5 in Canada gymnastics, it would normally be insufficient to get her a scholarship to Stanford University.

“I chose Stanford because I knew that Stanford would not only provide me with the chance to pursue my academic and athletic goals, but also challenge me to open up to more opportunities beyond what I could ever imagine,” said Aleeza on the Stanford website.

She chose to study a linguistics degree in speech therapy, hoping that she can help those with speech barriers.

Physical and mental strength

While school work was not tedious to Aleeza, she found it less arduous than the tough gymnastics training which is paired with hardship, anxiety and injuries picked up in competition. 

Aleeza has had numerous injuries including ligament sprains and fractures. “These are serious tests for the body and mind. For instance, when you return to compete after a recovery, you have to redo the stunts that caused your injury, and that is a big test”, she added, “I have to train as usual, injured or not. I normally train 6 hours every day. If I’m injured, I can only train for 4 hours a day, training with an injury can be quite painful, one has to be strong”.

Born into a family of Falun Dafa cultivation – a superior Buddha school based on the tenets of Zhen Shan Ren (Truthfulness, Compassion and Forbearance), Sheree, her mother, found Aleeza more mature than the average child, taking care of herself alone on a trip to Japan with her coach for competition in grade 9.

“I like to be independent…I look at challenges from a different point of view, when I encounter difficulties or interpersonal conflicts, I look at them from a positive perspective, this can help me get over things quickly” said Aleeza. 

Handling accomplishments and accidents

“I try to deal with everything calmly no matter what happens. I try not to brag about my achievements, because the awards are the natural outcome of my efforts, I don’t need to pursue them with too much intention.”

Aleeza fell off the balance beam in a competition 2 years ago, while friends worried for her, she was unaffected during the following floor exercise.

 “I only thought about how to do my best in the rest of the competition. I didn’t look back, but simply looked forward” said Aleeza.

Witnessing the entire thing, Sheree said, “So many years of hard work are judged in a short period of time, less than a minute and 20 seconds. There was only 10 minutes between the balance beam and floor exercise. It is very hard even for adults to remain calm.”

Aleeza participated in the national tournament in Ottawa in 2014 for the July Commonwealth Games in the UK, even though she had a foot injury.

Unfortunately, she added a new injury during the competition, “The first day I ranked 2nd in the all-around but was injured again during the vault session” said Aleeza. 

Why participate with an injury?

“I understand that I need to cooperate with the team, respect my coach’s decision and try my best.” she stated.

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