UNC sophomore Camilla Feeley is ending her rhythmic gymnastics career with a bang as a member of Team USA at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
After dedicating the last 15 years of her life to the sport, the 21-year-old will be hanging up her ribbons to focus on her academics at UNC, where she hopes to obtain a degree in psychology.
Feeley first became captivated by rhythmic gymnastics when her mother took her to open gyms in her home state of Maryland. At one of these open gyms, she saw Julie Zetlin, who would go on to represent the United States in rhythmic gymnastics in the 2012 Olympics, training. Young Feeley knew then that she wanted to be a rhythmic gymnast.
“I saw her training and I was like ‘Oh my gosh mom, can I please do that?’” Feeley recalled.
Feeley’s mother, Pamela, recognized her daughter’s immediate interest in the sport and decided to enroll her in classes.
“It captured her heart as soon as she saw it,” Pamela Feeley said.
Rhythmic gymnastics became Feeley’s whole life shortly after. Vacations and family gatherings were sacrificed for a busy practice schedule and trips for competitions. Before she finished elementary school, she was traveling internationally to show off her rhythmic gymnastics skills.
As the years went on, the Feeley family moved several times to try out new teams for their daughter, wanting to give her the best opportunities. By eighth grade, she was in online school, which allowed her to better keep up with her increasingly busy life. That same year, the family made their final move to Illinois, where the U.S. National Team for rhythmic gymnastics is located. But this life never felt chaotic for Feeley, it was what she loved.
“Honestly, it wasn’t really a decision I made like, ‘Now I’m going to do this professionally,’” Feeley said. “It just kind of happened and I just went for it.”
The artistry was what mattered most for Feeley in her sport. In fact, being on the Olympic team was never necessarily her end goal. Feeley said she thought about it as she watched teammates go to the Olympics over the years, but for the most part, she continued rhythmic gymnastics because it was what she was passionate about.
“Her passion was really in the artistic expression,” Pamela Feeley said.
Feeley spent the majority of her career as an individual gymnast, only recently making the switch to a group environment. She said being a member of a group is drastically different, as the members must accommodate one another in order to perform in unison.
The U.S. National team practices every day from 9 a.m. until noon, and again from 3 p.m. until 6 p.m. Teammate Liza Pletneva said Feeley often stays after these long practices to work on her skills.
Feeley has practiced with this team every day since she joined in 2019. Even during the pandemic, practices continued over Zoom. But all of the practice was worth it, Feeley said, because her team qualified for the Tokyo Olympics in June at the Pan American Championships in Rio de Janeiro. This will be the first Olympics that the U.S. has had both two individuals and a group qualify.
“It was amazing,” Feeley said about qualifying. “My whole team and I were in a hotel in Brazil at the time. We all found out that we were going to the Olympics and burst into tears because so many years of putting hard work into gymnastics and finally our dreams were coming true.”
Pletneva shared similar sentiments about the intimate experience with her teammates.
“It was honestly something out of a dream,” Pletneva said.
No one’s career can last forever, and for Feeley, the Olympics are the perfect opportunity to say goodbye. She and her team hope that they can perform two clean routines in Tokyo to end Feeley’s career before she returns to UNC.
“I want to move on and go to college and leave that part of my life behind,” Feeley said. “I think I closed the chapter well.”