Category Archives: opinion pieces

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.

So, You Think You Can Get A College Scholarship?

Wahoo, it’s the first Chatty Gymnast post!

So, college gymnastics season drew to a close last month and it was the Florida Gators who were victorious during this very impressive season. We love to watch the impressive hair/leotards, big skills and whole team atmosphere of the sport but we sometimes forget how to get to this place, as a gymnast. For a young gymnast, the college gymnastics world is very cutthroat and sometimes it can seem like you have no chance in making the elusive team that you’ve supported for years.

This article is not to scare prospective college gymnasts but merely, to point them in the right direction and give them confidence and goals and some guidance as to what college gymnastics life will be like. If you believe, anything is possible.

  1. Academics mean more than gymnastics skills

You may be the next Gabby Douglas or Nastia Liukin, sure, any team would want you for their roster but you have to remember that you’re actually attending the school! Whoops. Decipher the schools you believe cater for your academic capabilities as well as your academic needs; i.e. how good the program for your future degree is. For instance, 3.0 GPA will not cut it for an Ivy League program. Know yourself and know your strengths and weaknesses. Don’t give up if your dream school is a little trickier to get into; just put the work in and set goals for yourself in school.

  1. Be loud and proud; Get your name out there!

A college coach is not going to know who you are unless you make the effort to get in contact. Search the e-mails of head coaches of the program’s you’re considering and just tell them about yourself, gymnastics skills and link them to your personal website and social media links (if you want, obviously!). Nine times out of ten, you’ll get a response and hopefully, they’ll want to stay in contact. Persistence is good but don’t e-mail them every other day; desperation is never a good look!

  1. A personal website is vital!

A personal website is a key component in the recruitment process. Of course, you can be recruited without one but the website will help you keep track of both your gymnastics and academic achievements. Be sure to include the following;

  • Personal information (DOB, Hometown, siblings etc.)
  • Parents names
  • Home phone number
  • Your and/or your coaches e-mail address
  • School name, principal name, current grade, GPA, academic achievements etc.
  • Gymnastics results
  • Club, coaches (and their contact)

Your website doesn’t need to be a hip-hop, trendy graphic design or have a personal domain; a simple website with basic design is sufficient enough. Make it true to yourself. A website will absolutely increase your chances of college recruitment.

  1. Don’t be disheartened from rejection

No matter how hard you try, not everyone can be awarded a scholarship to a single team. A team rejects you, so what? You’ve still got 81 more to choose from. It can be disappointing but you have to walk away knowing that school obviously was not right for you. You can do it!

  1. Know you’re probably not going to be in the line-up on every event, every week!

There are 10-17 gymnasts on a single college team and there are only 6 spots in the line-up on each event. As there are so many team members and so few line-up spots, the chances of you doing all-around each week are rather unlikely, however, not impossible. The coach’s intent will be to try and give each gymnast adequate performance time but sometimes it is not possible. Don’t go into college believing you will do every single event, every single week; you have to work your way up the team and eventually, you may achieve this.

  1. Specialise on the events you feel are your strongest and most valuable

Linking to my previous point, it is ludicrous believing you will do all-around each week, immediately. It definitely pays to drop down to 2 or 3 events, or even just 1. Prior to your entry to college, work on your best events in the gym. Make them polished and strong and routines you feel would make it to a college team. Upon arrival at college, your college coach will immediately see the flair and grounding you bring to the team on that particular event and will be sure to draft you in! It makes much more sense to be drafted into the team’s line-up week in, week out on your specialised events than yo-yo in your work load each week, competing all-around one week and just one event the next.

  1. Know that Division II is just as good as the top flight

In the recruitment process, gymnasts and their parents are often reluctant about Division II programs and often don’t dare to even search for further information on these programs, believing their child is ‘better than Div. II’. Cringe. This couldn’t be any further from the truth when put into practice as, in recent years; we’ve seen Div. II teams become crowned victorious over teams from the top division. Prime examples include Bridgeport and Lindenwood; both of whom have been ranked over various Div. I teams during the 2015 season. This ‘snobbery’ approach towards Division II is simply blown out of proportion by some gymnastics moms. The bottom line is: choose a program that suits you, regardless of whether it is Division I, II or III.

  1. J.O. Nationals is a must!

J.O. Nationals is the National Championships for Level 10 gymnasts; the level which many future college gymnasts compete in during club gymnastics. A J.O. Nationals participation is an absolute must for the top Div. I schools who are probably expecting multiple J.O. Nationals participations in your resume. Consistently good performances at J.O. Nationals each year will punch you a ticket onto a strong college team.

  1. Know that the college gymnastics season is a long, hard slog

Competing each week as well as balancing practice in-between can be a daunting task on the body. Although regular season lasts for three months, that is 12 weeks of intense competition as well as returning for Conference, Regional & National Championships, if invited. Make sure you stay healthy and seek medical attention if you’re hurting or aching.

  1. Be prepared to step in!

A teammate can go down with injury at any minute and you could be their replacement. Make sure you’re on hand and you’re on your a-game at all times during a meet because who knows you may need to step in and become a hero!

  1. International gymnasts have just as much chance of earning scholarships

Competition for college scholarships is fierce enough for U.S. gymnasts alone, without adding international gymnasts into the mix. However, we have not seen a shortage of international students in college gymnastics in recent years with team members from countries like Canada, England, Australia, Spain and Holland being represented in the sport. International gymnasts bring international competitive experience to the team and are arguably more experienced. The world’s your oyster!

  1. A walk-on position is better than no position

Many gymnasts don’t consider competing as a walk-on for a team because you aren’t ‘officially’ a member. A full-ride scholarship naturally brings its perks of paying for academic and housing costs etc. but you should certainly consider a walk-on spot if you’re attending your dream school (for academics). A walk-on spot can lead to bigger things; a full-ride scholarship. It has been done, most notably by UCLA’s Ariana Berlin.

  1. What you put in is what you’ll get out!

This purely means; if you’re lazy about your approach to college recruiters and don’t put the effort in, you’re college chances are certainly going south. If you put in the effort by working hard at school, working hard in the gym, doing extracurricular activities, contacting and visiting various schools then you’re going to get the scholarship you deserve!

To summarise, I want to wish all prospective college gymnasts good luck in their pathway into collegiate student-athlete life; you can create your future and it’s your life, so start living it! Wow, word count is 1300+. Ooh, I have been busy!

An article by James Greaves, Editor-in-chief

Photo credits: The GymShark (website) – Gymnast photographed: Alina Weinstein

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