An Exclusive with Sam Peszek

Recently, Chatty Gymnast caught up with recent UCLA graduate, Sam Peszek, who has just finished her final season competing for the UCLA Bruins gymnastics team – winning two NCAA National titles this season. In the interview, we discussed topics such as UCLA, Beijing 2008, future career plans and the motherly love of Miss Val! This is definitely worth a read!

So, here it goes!

  1. You’ve just completed your final season as a UCLA Bruin. How have your experiences at UCLA and as a student-athlete shaped you as a person?

SP: My experiences at UCLA have shaped me tremendously as a person. I am so lucky to have great coaches that not only want us to succeed athletically and academically, but more importantly in life. At UCLA I felt extremely challenged to be the best I could be and to set the bar even higher for myself when I graduate. I loved every minute of it and couldn’t think of a better place to set me up for life after college.

  1. Also this season, you won two NCAA National titles; what did it feel like to take these titles home?

SP: It was really nice to end my gymnastics career on such a great note. I’ve always loved gymnastics and truthfully was nervous to be done competing. However, I feel completely at peace with moving on and excited for the “life after gymnastics,” I’ve heard so many people talk about.

  1. Back in 2013, you tore your Achilles and were sidelined from competition for the whole 2013 season. How did you cope with this and how did you motivate yourself to get back for the next season? 

SP: I was really devastated by this actually because it was right before season and I had worked so hard that pre-season. It was also such a bummer because I love competing, but I really used this year to figure out how I wanted my next two years of gymnastics to go and focused on what I was going to do differently. Not only was I a better leader from the experience, but I was also a smarter athlete.

  1. You’ve been very entertaining hosting the UCLA Gymnastics web series Bruin Banter throughout this season. As you’re a Communications Studies major, was this a project you created yourself?

SP: It started as my idea that I told Miss Val about the year I was injured and she helped me make it happen. It has definitely evolved since then and this year we were fortunate enough to have Deanna Hong to edit it and together we had ideas/themes for each week. I’m really proud of how it went this year and hopefully it can be a tradition that is continued from here……Danusia is the host this season and she’ll be amazingly entertaining

  1. Now that you’ve graduated college, where will you go next? Do you have any career ideas yet?

SP: I’m traveling a lot in the summer staying in the gymnastics community, however I am working on a lot of different projects! I would love to get into broadcasting and eventually get my MBA.

  1. Miss Val is a woman that the Gymternet hold dearly in our hearts. What is she like as a coach and as a person, outside of Gymnastics?

  SP:  Miss Val has been a coach, a mentor, a friend, a life coach and everything in between. I can’t thank her enough for teaching me so much about life. When you go to college it is a big transition no matter where you go, but I’m extremely lucky to have her and Chris and Randy to be such great role models for all of us. Miss Val is someone that will be in my life forever. ❤

  1. Your sister, Jessie, is a member of the Western Michigan gymnastics team and is doing incredibly well. As club gymnasts, was it an advatange or a disadvantage of having a sister doing gymnastics with you?

SP: Jessie had a great year! As a club gymnast we were never on the same practice schedule or anything like that so it wasn’t necessarily an advantage or disadvantage. She stayed at DeVeaus when I went to train with Marvin and Bridget, so we haven’t really ever trained together to be honest.

  1. All the way back in 2008, you made the Olympic team but you injured your left ankle during training and were limited to just bars. How did you feel after this? Were you upset that you were limited or were you just happy to compete?

SP: I was extremely devastated. My practices were going so well and I had my routines on lock, so it was such a bummer for something like that to happen. Of course, it was still an honor to compete for USA and be on the team. I had to switch roles from being an all-arounder to a motivator for the rest of the girls because in my heart the most important thing Team USA. I really wanted an opportunity to compete beam because I never feel like I showed my full potential on that event in elite, but then again being able to hit my bar routine when the team needed me too even under those circumstances was a really rewarding feeling!

  1. What would your advice be to young gymnasts, aiming to be as successful as you?

SP: I would just tell young gymnasts to be passionate and always remember why you started. The road is never easy, but it is 100% worth it.

10.  Can we expect to see an elite return from you? Or has that ship well and truly sailed? 

SP: HAHA…..I mean maybe I’ll do a comeback…..JK. I’m really lucky to have the opportunity in college and compete for UCLA. I feel like it has completely prepared me for life after gymnastics and I’m ready for what the next chapter brings!

An article by James Greaves / editor-in-chief

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The Ones That Got Away: Part Two

Following the success of the first edition, I decided to renew the The Ones That Got Away series for another post this time. For those who missed the first post, you can find it here. Basically, I will be reviewing the careers of the gymnasts that never really made the big time and eventually fizzled out, never reaching their full potentials. Here we go with Part Two;

Shantessa Pama

24 years old • USA  • 2002-08

Dana Point native, Shantessa Pama, was touted to become a 2008 U.S. Olympic team member for sure, however, it was not mean’t to be for her. Back in 2002, aged 11 at the time, Pama made her elite debut as a HOPES elite at the U.S. Challenge, finishing 10th all-around. A year later, Pama clinched the U.S. Challenge title and had shown vast improvement. In 2004, Shantessa rose to the elite ranks, where she would finish 11th in the all-around. A good start for a 13-year old! At this time, Pama could do a triple back bars dismount! The following season, aged 14, she had her best Nationals showing of her career – 5th in the all-around. In 2006, Shantessa received two international assignments; placing 4th at the Gymnix Invitational and winning three individual medals at the Pacific Rim Championships, also helping the team’s success. Her 2006 domesic elite season was much more quiet though; finishing 9th all-around. In 2007, she battled through injury but was sidelined throughout the whole season which eventually prompted her move to Level 10 for the 2008 season, with the intent of maybe qualifying for elite for the 2008 season. Pama had a rather mediocre 2008 season, eventually placing 12th at Regionals; not receiving a qualification spot to J.O. Nationals. She then turned her attention to college gymnastics, graduating from Dana Hills HS in 2009. Shantessa had expressed interest in attending UCLA, Stanford or Georgia. According to one source, Marta Karolyi, the U.S. National team co-ordinator, caught wind of Tessa’s lifestyle choices of having boyfriends and her general attitude; and didn’t like what she saw – ending all invitations to National Team camps. Anywho, Pama retired from Gymnastics and enrolled in a community college. She later started coaching at Gym-Max Gymnastics, the gym she came from, but has since stopped. Additionally, Pama contemplated comebacks for both the 2010 and 2011 seasons but they never took off the ground! Personally, I feel that Pama’s story is disappointing because, like many of the gymnasts featured in these posts, she showed so much promise in her earlier years and just burnt out in the latter stages of her career. If the allegations that arose with Marta prove to be true, I think that is rather a flimsy reason to ‘disinvite’ her from training camps but, as we often believe, Marta definitely has her favorites and evidently Shantessa wasn’t one of them.

Ana Porgras 

21 years old • Romania  • 2007-11

A gymnast that the Gymternet hold very dearly in their hearts is the Romanian gem that is Ana Porgras. The first real look the Gymternet got of Ana was at the 2008 Junior Europeans; held in Clermont-Ferrand. At this Championship, she took home the Beam title, as well as contributing to the team’s fourth place finish and individually finishing ninth all-around. Even towards the end of her junior career, injury was not on her side, requiring surgery to repair a detatched knee ligament. Porgras’ first senior elite season was 2009. She was sidelined from Europeans that year because she was still recovering from the knee surgery. She was back on form for the latter stages of 2009, taking home the National title and later making the Romanian Worlds team. She garnered four individual final qualification spots after the qualification round. In the all-around final, Porgras fell on beam and could’ve easily found herself on the podium, had she not have fallen. Composed for redemption in the three event finals, Porgras found herself with a silver medal on bars, later. She was later seventh on beam and fifth on floor. Once again battling through injury, Ana was a member of the 2010 Europeans team, in Birmingham, England. She contributed well to the team but, in the team final, sustained an injury during her beam dismount which took her out of the remainder of the competition. Later, she was diagnosed with a crack in her right fibula. After a few months of rehabiliation, Porgras was poised for success and defended her National title; earning a spot on the 2010 Romanian Worlds team. At Worlds, she finished fifth in the all-around final but later, clinched the World Beam title over a very strong field. This title, at the time, was the first for Romania since Andrea Raducan’s two golds in 2001. The 2011 season was to be Porgras’ final competitive season, however, we weren’t aware of this at the time! At Europeans in Berlin, Ana competed two events only (UB & BB) and failed to make either event finals. She got her third National title in August and made the 2011 Worlds team. This was Porgras’ poorest Worlds performance ever; failing to make any event finals. However, she did make the all-around final and finished sixth. She also was awarded with the Longines Prize of Elegance; an exclusive award given to the most artistic gymnast of the Championship. This was the last time we’d ever see Ana in competition *cries*. Porgras announced her retirement during January 2012; following an elbow injury sustained during a training camp in France. This was merely seven months away from the London 2012 Olympic Games. Porgras’ absence proved to be a severe blow to the Romanian Olympic team. Porgras’ story is exceptionally sad. I feel that the fact that she came so close to making the Olympics makes her situation so much sadder. As well as sustaining her elbow injury, I believe that Porgras was quite unhappy in Gymnastics during this time and quit out of ‘boredom’ or that she’d ‘had enough’ of the sport. Honestly, I didn’t see her retirement coming and thought she would’ve been a shoe-in for the Romanian Olympic team.

Darling ‘Darlene’ Hill 

25 years old • USA  • 2007-08

Known as Darlene Hill until 2008, Darling Hill had a very short lived tenure at the top. Growing up in an unsafe area, to be blunt, her mother was largely into drugs and she and her sister, Melissa, were later taken in by her grandmother, Elouise Dixon. Initially starting out in dance class with her cousins, her aunt later found Will-Moor Gymnastics in Mt Laurel, N.J. Hill remained with the club throughout her entire career, training under Kim Bonus. The only result that I can find that archive back to her Optional career was her performances at 2004 J.O. Nationals; where she was National Champion for the Junior B division. In 2007, Hill graduated from Lenape High School and qualified to Senior International Elite, with the intent to make the 2008 Olympics a year later. Hill finished third all-around at U.S. Classic and later, took home ninth place at Nationals. This result earned her a spot on the U.S. National team and a chance to compete at the 2007 Glasgow Grand Prix, where she came fourth on bars.

Poised for success in 2008, ready to make the Olympic team, Hill’s life was suddenly turned upside down when she was given the news that her grandmother had passed away. Without any time to mourn, a couple of weeks after her grandmother’s funeral, Hill travelled with the U.S. team to compete at the Pacific-Rim Championships in San Jose, California. Hill put her hurt to one side and contributed to the team’s gold medal winning performance as well as taking home the floor title. The rest of the 2008 season was no where near as happy as Darlene would’ve wanted it to be have been but she knew she had to keep moving forward if she wanted to achieve her goals and make her grandmother proud. At Nationals, Hill placed 20th all-around but was still given an Olympic Trials spot. At the Trials, she finished 16th and the selection committee didn’t name her to the Olympic team, nor as an alternate. It is necessary to mention that during this season, Darlene was dealing with shoulder muscle strains, a hyperextended left knee and a sprained left ankle. Not making the team was a big blow to Darlene but she moved forward. During 2008, Hill signed a sponsorship agreement with Gattaca and so therefore, forfeited her NCAA eligibility. Hill’s next goal was to get healthy for the 2009 season but a comeback proved too much – due to the extent of her shoulder problems. However, it was not all bad news for Darlene. Since 2008, Hill resumed conversation with father, Tyrone Hill, and her mother, Vivian Hill, whom she had never met, finally called her and agreed to meet her. As far as we understand, she is still in contact with both of them.

Madalina Blendea

16 years old • Romania • 2009-13

I see a Romanian-USA theme going on here! Blendea is a disappointing addition to this list because of how young she was when she retired. Born on January 8, 1999 in the Romanian commune of Borascu, Blendea made her National debut at the 2009 Romanian Schools competition, where she picked up three golds. In 2010, she was added to the Romanian Junior National team and was third at Nationals. Later, she travelled to Charleroi, Belgium, to compete at the 2010 TopGym tournament and eventually placed 14th all-around. Madalina celebrated her best season ever in 2011, winning every single event at School Nationals! She also finished third at Nationals, sixth place at the ROU-FIN-GER-ITA quad meet and took the all-around title at the Alpen Adria Cup. She had a quiet 2012 season, competing at School Nationals only. In 2013, her final season as a gymnast, Blendea was fourth at the FRA-ROU Junior friendly and third at Romanian Teams.  In early 2014, aged merely 15 years old, Madalina announced her retirement from Gymnastics! After a successful junior career, we never got to know how Madalina would fare as a Senior athlete. No ‘reason’ behind her retirment has been issued, as far as I am aware. Evidently, it was not mean’t to be for Blendea, who showed so much promise as a junior. 😦

Well, this concludes the second edition in this series! I am definitely going to continue this series so stay tuned for further posts and if you have any suggestions on who we could feature; contact me through E-mail or Twitter.

Read more in the The Ones That Got Away series here:

Part One – featuring Anna Myzdrikova, Mariya Livchikova, Cassandra Whitcomb and Bianca Flohr.

Pan Ams 2015: Introducing the U.S. Team

Earlier today, USA Gymnastics announced the women’s artistic team delegation that they would be sending to the 2015 Pan American Games; held next month in Toronto, Canada (official press release). The competition will serve as a key event during the Women’s Artistic elite season for USA Gymnastics and the team will look to defend their title that they garnered back in 2011.

Here is a quick fact file on each of the team members;

Nia Dennis

16 years old • Westerville, Oh. • Buckeye • UCLA Bruins

About Nia

In her first year as a senior, Nia is yet to make her senior international debut. Dennis had a very accompolished junior elite career; qualifying to Nationals every year since 2011. Last year, she received two international assingments to the Pacific Rim Championships and the City of Jesolo Trophy and contributed to the team’s successes at both competitions. The Westerville, Ohio native, who committed to the UCLA Bruins team earlier in the year, is strong on all events but particularly on Bars and Vault. Look out for her on those pieces!

Madison Desch

17 years old • Lenexa, Kan. • GAGE • Alabama Crimson Tide

About Madison

Training under elusive coach, Al Fong, Maddie brings extensive experience to this team and is the oldest member of the team, aged 17! A National team member since 2011, Desch has proved herself at Nationals many times and found herself as the reserve for the 2014 U.S. Worlds team last year. Additionally, Maddie has been to various international competitions, also. Bars and Beam are her specialisms but she could contribute on the other two pieces, if needed.

Rachel Gowey

17 years old • Urbandale, Ia. • Chow’s • Florida Gators

About Rachel

Coming off an unfortunate ankle fracture at last year’s Nationals, Gowey looks poised for success this year. Training under world renowned coach, Liang Chow, Gowey transitioned to elite in 2013, as a Senior. A back injury sidelined her from competition that year and in 2014, her ankle fracture ended chances of making the Worlds team. As one of the team’s oldest members, Gowey will provide depth as an all-arounder.

Felicia Hano

16 years old • San Gabriel, Calif. • Gym-Max • UCLA Bruins

About Felicia

This super lovely California gal, hailing out of San Gabriel, has become one of the U.S.’s most consistent elites, in recent years. In 2013, Felicia made her elite debut as a Junior. A year later, she accepted a full-ride scholarship to the UCLA Bruins gymnastics team, and was later added to the 2014-15 U.S. Senior National team. Hano has improved so much in recent years and can definitely help the U.S. on Beam and Floor, for sure.

Amelia Hundley

17 years old • Hamilton, Oh. • Cincinnati • Florida Gators

About Amelia

Amelia, or “Meels” as she’s referred to as, has been on the scene for absolutely ages. Appearing first at the 2010 Nastia Liukin Cup, a meet which is televised, Hundley soon moved up to the Junior International Elite ranks. In 2012, she was part of the U.S. Pacific Rims team, which won the event. Last year, she made her elite debut and competed at the Pan Am Championships in Mississauga. The future Florida Gator, trained by world renowned coach, Mary Lee Tracy, can contribute on Bars and Beam and Floor, most likely.

Lauren Navarro

15 years old • La Verne, Calif. • Gliders • Uncommitted

About Lauren

The youngest member of the team, Navarro is likely to be an unfamiliar face to the international world. Training at Charter Oak Gliders, Lauren moved up to the elite level in 2013 and has placed well ever since. As a Senior, I am not sure what she can bring to the table but she is exceptional on beam; and was capable of hitting 14.800 last year, if she hit. Whether or not she has upgraded since then, look out for her on that event!

Emily Schild

16 years old • Huntersville, N.C. • Everest • Georgia Gym Dogs

About Emily

Schild has done exceptionally well in her first year as a senior, already! Brief history behind her, she moved up to Elite in 2013 but didn’t do very well that year. Last year, Schild sat out the entire year nursing an injury and was fit enough to return this year. An addition to the National team prior to the City of Jesolo Trophy competition, she made that team and finished 16th. She is very strong on Vault and Bars!

Megan Skaggs

16 years old • Marietta, Ga. • GAA • Florida Gators

About Megan

Skaggs is another gymnast who has been very prominent as a Junior. Since 2012, Megan has been elite and has placed well at Nationals every year. Like Schild, she was added to the National Team this year and competed at the City of Jesolo Trophy; finishing 8th. She is very stylish on beam and floor but could contribute on all pieces!

Personally, I cannot wait for this competition! This is a fairly inexperienced U.S. team and the major stars such as Simone BilesKyla Ross and MyKayla Skinner are likely to be resting and finishing preparations for the upcoming elite season. This competition will give the opportunity for the less experienced gymnasts to gain some and understand what it’s like to compete internationally.


Flanders International Team Challenge (Dutch results)

Last weekend the Flanders International Team Challenge was held. For the Dutch seniors a great opportunity to test their routines. The Netherlands were represented by both senior and junior teams.

Céline van Gerner
Lisa Top
Vera van Pol
Maartje Ruikes
Lieke Wevers

Juniors (14-15 y/o):
Sering Perdok
Mandy Maghoub
Marieke van Egmond
Morgan Spruijtenburg
Naomi Visser
Kirsten Polderman

Juniors (11, 12, 13 y/o):
Juliette Berens
Sanna Veerman
Maud Lammertink
Bogusia Rossen

The qualifications were on Saturday. Both Junior (14/15) and Senior teams did great. With some little mistakes they placed 7th and 6th.

The team final was on Sunday. On every event 2 juniors and 2 seniors showed their routines. With good results. The Dutch team ended on the 7th place. Lieke Wevers ended up 8th AA, Lisa Top 11th. They both can improve a little towards the EG.

The younger Juniors (11, 12, 13) showed good routines as well. Sanna Veerman even won AA! As a team they ended up 3th.
Last weekend was a great weekend for the Dutch Teams!