Nous model, Aliya Protto, has only been signed with us since the beginning of twenty-eighteen – yet, her experience in the entertainment industry is already layered with success.
As a newly-retired USA athlete, Aliya has spent over a decade of her life performing in the competitive sport of Rhythmic Gymnastics. Now that she has officially transitioned into the modeling-sphere, we became eager to learn her backstory, understanding the wisdom that comes along with competing in a national sport. To read about her journey, as well as gain insight as to how rhythmic gymnastics has influenced Aliya’s modeling strengths, take a glance below:
1. At what age did you start participating in Rhythmic Gymnastics?
I started Rhythmic gymnastics when I was seven years old.
2. What motivated you to partake in Rhythmic Gymnastics?
Rhythmic actually kind of came to me. I was scouted outside of a gymnastics school, and went to a few trial classes. After that, my mother told me: “Ali, you can’t do gymnastics and take all these other recreational classes. Either it’s Rhythmic or you stay in swimming, art, and all those other activities.”
So, from there, I had made up my mind to stay with Rhythmic and gave up everything else. That was the first time I’d fallen in love with something.
3. When training, how many hours a week, on average, did you participate in rhythmic gymnastics?
On average we would train about 25 hours a week. During competitive season, we would train anywhere from 4 to sometimes 7-8 hours a day. Usually these hours were broken up, but sometimes they were all in one big chunk, which could be grueling! National Team camps and international training sessions were the most intense, but they were also an honor to be a part of, and extremely rewarding.
4. Describe your daily life as a professional athlete.
My professional training really picked up in my teen years, after I had made the National Team at the age of 16.
My daily life became: wake up, go to first practice in the morning, come home to study/finish my homework, squeeze in a quick nap if time allowed, and then I would be off to a second evening practice. I would usually get home around nine, have dinner, study some more, go to bed, and then be ready to do the same thing the next day.
Aliya taken by Marcel Indik.
5. What ‘life tools’ do you feel rhythmic gymnastics has taught you that you may not have gotten anywhere else?
Towards the end of my career, I really learned to not care what other people thought of me. At first, it was extremely intimidating when I started to compete on the world stage, with such amazing gymnasts. I felt very insecure, like I didn’t totally belong. But, as time went on I just came to this realization that none of it mattered, I didn’t need validation anymore because I understood that I was “enough” the way I was.
It also taught me the importance of being passionate about something. Life isn’t perfect, and things don’t always happen the way you want them to, but it’s all irrelevant if you’re passionate about what you do. Passion is the force that keeps you moving forward, no matter what life throws at you!
6. What was your single greatest achievement in rhythmic gymnastics?
There were some really amazing moments, but the single greatest was in 2016. I was Senior All-Around Champion at Pacific Rim, winning 5 gold medals! I was happy because, in that competition, I was totally in the zone, and I had so much fun performing. It made the event all the more special!
7. What was the hardest move to master in rhythmic gymnastics? How did you feel when you accomplished it?
There were sooooo many, haha! I cant really single one out, but the feeling of mastering a trick or a move is exhilarating. It’s that moment that everything clicks and falls into place, and just creates this amazing mix of joy, relief, and excitement!
8. Were there any role models that inspired you?
Omg Yes! I looked up to so many beautiful gymnasts that I still admire even today. There was the beautiful Anna Bessonova from Ukraine, Irina Tchachina and Evgenia Kanaeva from Russia, and Liubov Charkashyna from Belarus! They were the reasons I pushed and trained so hard because I wanted to be on the world stage like them!
9. It’s no secret that rhythmic gymnastics is an extremely physical sport. What were some of the things that you did to upkeep your fitness?
A lot of what we did revolved around stretching, technique, strengthening, and diet. We stretched everyday to stay flexible and keep muscles lean. We did many hours of ballet for technique, and strengthening exercises to keep strong and maintain proper form. We also had to maintain a very healthy diet and very little body fat, to ensure we could jump high and maintain speed throughout our performances.
10. On any given day, what would have been the top reason that may have deterred you from practicing?
Pretty much being sick with the flu and not being able to remove my body from my bed!!!
11. What was (or is) your favorite song to work out to?
I had two! One was “Lean On” by Major Lazer! That was my workout & pre-performance jam, I listened to that song before going into the gym! The other one was “The Fire” by the Roots, that song I also listened to religiously while warming up before a competition!
12. What inspired you to transition into modeling?
Being in rhythmic, I felt very connected to the arts. It incorporated the art of movement, expression, grace, music (considering we performed to songs that came from various musical categories) —we even had beautiful ornate costumes! So to me, the idea of modeling, and the idea of being a part fashion seemed like a perfect fit. I saw modeling as being a part of another world of art, and I felt that would be the best transition for me.
13. Thus far, have you had the opportunity work with any athletic brands since joining Nous? What was it like to work with these brands?
Yes I have! I have booked quite a few jobs with Lululemon, which has been such a fun experience!! It was exciting for me having the opportunity to model clothing that my teammates and I used to train in, as well as being able to showcase some of my skills for the brand!
14. Is there anything that rhythmic gymnastics and modeling have in common?
Actually yes, in both areas I find that the way of telling a story is very much the same. You cant speak in either modeling or when performing in Rhythmic, so you have to really rely on your facial expression and body movements to really communicate and express yourself.
15. Do you still participate in rhythmic gymnastics on occasions for fun?
Not as much. My main focus now is modeling, but I still will get out my equipment every now and then and play around a bit, and still work on maintaining my flexibility.
16. Do you feel that having a background in Rhythmic Gymnastics has helped transition you into the modeling world? In what way?
Rhythmic really gave me some tough skin, and I think that has helped me so much in pursuing modeling. It has given me that “I don’t quit” mindset, and even when things don’t go smoothly, there is this resilience that my former athletic mind has instilled in me. It has also given me a great understanding of my body and how it moves, which I feel is essential for modeling as well. I feel that this aspect makes me different, and that I can bring something different to the table besides just a pretty face. It has also served me very well in the aspect of discipline, and hard work. At the end of it all, nobody cared if you were tired or things were hard, the only thing they remembered was if you did your job, and did it well.
Can’t get enough of Aliya? Take a look at this video of her competing in the 2015 USA Gymnastics Championship: