in the 12-18 age group, an elite level that
involves challenging skills and routines.
When she and Shawn teamed up, they
intended to compete one level lower, in
the 11-16 group. But a few months into
the partnership, as they approached a
major competition in Las Vegas, their
coach nudged them to drop one rung
lower to Level 8, which is not defined by
age but requires less demanding skills.
“I was kind of relieved, because I
knew we weren’t ready,” Nicole says,
echoing Shawn’s thinking. When they
got to the Vegas Acro Cup in February
2018, they blew away the competition,
Eicher says. “That’s when we knew we
were back on track.”
In July 2018, Nicole and Shawn won
gold at the USA Gymnastics Champion-
ships in North Carolina for mixed pairs at
the 11-16 age level. Soon after, they were
selected for the U.S. team that will com-
pete at international events in 2019.
“It’s pretty unusual for someone who
has no background, not even a gymnastics or dancing background, to progress
to that level so quickly,” Eicher says. The
Bethesda siblings have set their sights
even higher for 2020, when they hope to
be chosen for the team that will compete
at the world championships in Geneva. At
a family gathering in Kimmel’s Bethesda
home one recent afternoon, Shawn and
Nicole showed off their new leotards and
ticked off the previous year’s successes.
“We proved everybody wrong,” Shawn
says with a smile.
COACHES AND TRAINERS WHO’VE
worked with Nicole and Shawn say one
key to their success is their connection
on the floor, which helps sell the story-
telling aspect of their performances to
judges. Arthur Davis, the siblings’ Los
Angeles-based choreographer, says acro
gymnastics is a physical manifestation
of an intense relationship that requires
immense trust—a confidence that your
partner will catch and support you, even
if you’ve had a nasty spat. He sees that
kind of connection and understand-
ing between Shawn and Nicole. Even as
Shawn struggled to catch up to his sis-
ter’s skill level in the early days, she was
patient with him. “She was willing to wait,
and that’s a beautiful thing,” Davis says.
“There’s a general ease between them.”
Their mother, Maryam Seifi, says the
siblings have always had each other’s
backs. When family friends threw a
party and relegated the children to the
basement to watch television, 6-year-
old Shawn insisted that the other kids
make room for his little sister in the
front row so she could see the screen.
In third grade, Nicole confronted an
older boy whom she believed was bully-
ing her brother and told him to knock it
off. That instinct to protect one another
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