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Elk Grove’s Junior National Champion Commits to Illinois

Elk Grove’s Junior National Champion Commits to Illinois

University gymnastic teams across the country were jumping to land Preston Ngai, a 16-year-old student attending Rio Vista Charter School, but he eventually decided on the University of Illinois. 

Ngai is the city’s first junior national champion in men’s gymnastics. Now, the “Fighting Illini” has a rising star in its already illustrious program. The program is one of the best in the country having won 10 team NCAA championships, and second most all-time to Penn State University’s 12 team titles. Illinois has also won 53 individual NCAA titles, an all-time record . 

“The coaching staff there is great. They’ve produced Olympic level athletes multiple times,” said the 16-year-old. He received a four-year scholarship and will study computer science as a junior. 

A family tradition

Ngai’s oldest brother, Brandon Ngai, owned the pommel horse events, and was a stellar gymnast at Illinois. Between 2016 and 2018, he became a three-time NCAA All-American and an NCAA and Big Ten champion. The middle Ngai, Cameron, was a stellar gymnast in high school. Both inspired and pushed their youngest sibling to get better every day. 

“I got into gymnastics because my brothers were in it. Luckily, I liked it.”

-Preston Ngai


Huntington Learning Center

Olympic dreams

Ngai trains under coach Ron Howard at the Elevate Gymnastics Academy. The 45,000 square foot facility at 3132 Dwight Road turns out many great male and female gymnasts. But Ngai is the school’s first male junior national champion. 

Soon he’ll leave to train with other team members to fight for a spot in international competitions. Once he gets to college, he can qualify for the senior national team and perhaps the Olympics. Howard said Ngai has the ability to reach that level.  

“This is a very difficult sport. You have to have dedication, flexibility, and the smarts to work through fears. And you’ve got to be strong enough to stick with it,” Howard said. “Those traits have to work in the same body. If one is missing, then you’re not on track. He has all of them.”

Debbie Meyer, Owner of Elevate Gymnastics Academy said, “the sky’s the limit” for this future superstar. 

“It takes perseverance to get to this point, and isn’t this why we, as coaches, do what we do?” Meyer said. “It’s about the kids and seeing where their aspirations will go. When they achieve their dreams, we did our job.”

The future is bright

Ngai credits his coaches at Elevate Gymnastics Academy for getting him this far. And not just for mastering technique. He learned how to win, lose, support his teammates and understand shortcuts don’t cut it. Among the school’s 1,700 students, he’s someone to look up to.

“Everyone’s rooting for him. They’re all a part of it. He inspires all the little ones coming up. They want to be just like him.”

Ron Howard

Competing at the international level would mark Ngai’s highest achievement. He looks forward to meeting that challenge with a maturity far beyond his teen years. Always in view, however, is that possibility to go for a gold.  

“Who knows? There’s so much time between now and me being an Olympian. But it’s always a dream for the gymnastics world to know who you are,” he said. 

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About The Author

Tony Mercado

Tony is our News & Events Editor. Tony Mercado brings a decade of experience as a Bay Area newspaper reporter to the Tribune. He studied journalism and political science at San José State University and has written for such dailies as the Gilroy Dispatch, San José Mercury News and Contra Costa Times. By day, he’s a communications specialist for a San José water district and somehow finds time to dive into a Stephen King novel, get in the stands for San José Sharks and Las Vegas Raiders games and whoop it up with his family and rescue dogs.

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