Many gymnasts discover the sport through mommy-and-me gymnastics classes. But advancing out of those introductory classes to dominate the J.O. gymnastics world, qualify to elite gymnastics meets, and make a verbal commitment to the University of Denver? That’s not quite so common. Especially not for two sisters to do it together.
Meet Isabel “Bella” and Ava Mabanta.
At just 4 years old, Bella started in the gym taking classes with her dad while her mom worked as a physician. A few years later, little sister Ava was enrolled in dance classes but was more intrigued at what big sister Bella was doing in the gym. Both girls’ gymnastics careers started in Florida and from compulsory meets to optional levels, Bella and Ava have been right by each other’s side.
Now, the Mabantas live in Texas and the two sisters train at Denton Gymnastics Academy. Bella is going into her senior year of high school, while Ava will be a sophomore next school year.
You might think a competitive sibling rivalry would have developed between the Mabanta sisters, but not so say Bella and Ava. The sisters spend every practice in the gym together and they can tell when their sister is in need of an extra boost.
“I definitely go talk to her myself first before other teammates,” Bella said. “It’s just a sister duo type of thing. We need each other to be there first.”
Ava agrees. “I can tell the way Bella looks when she’s in that frustrated mode. I just go over there and try to make her feel better.”
Not only do these sisters spend time at practice together, over the last few years they’ve also had the opportunity to compete at the same meets. One of their pre-meet rituals is making a playlist to listen to on the way.
Over the past two competition seasons, Bella and Ava have combined to win more than 20 first-place event and all-around titles. Beautiful beam skills seem to run in the Mabantas’ blood. Bella was the 2018 region 3 beam champion, as well as the J.O. national champion with this near perfect routine.
Ava holds the 2018 and 2019 Texas beam state champion title. Her two-foot layout series in this routine immediately catches your attention.
When asked what has been their favorite memory together doing gym, both the girls and their mom Sheliane Mabanta agreed, 2018 JO Nationals in Boston. Coincidentally, they qualified in Denver, where regionals was held and the meet was both of the girls’ first time at J.O.s.
Like most gymnasts’ moms, Sheilane realizes that the sport of gymnastics is unpredictable and as a parent, she doesn’t take any competition for granted.
“You just can’t ever take that [J.O. nationals] experience away,” she said. “It happened and they were both there together and had such a wonderful experience.”
As for the collegiate world, Bella already has big dreams. By the time she graduates, her goal is to get a perfect 10 on beam and help her team continue to qualify to nationals.
“I want to get to know everybody because then each individual on the team will influence each other to be better,” Bella said. “So I’m just excited for that environment.”
The Mabanta family hopes the trend of sister duos in gymnastics will continue. Bella’s goal is to be fully healthy for her last year as a J.O. gymnast and Ava’s goal is to qualify elite again and enjoy one last season with her sister.
“She’s a role model to me and she influences me to do better things than gym,” Ava said. “She just definitely helps me through it all.”