A decathlon … in gymnastics?
That’s what some members of the WashU Club Gymnastics (WUCG) team have set out to do this season: compete in all four events in women’s artistic gymnastics (vault, bars, beam and floor) and all six events in men’s artistic gymnastics (floor, pommel horse, still rings, vault, parallel bars and high bar).
Typically, there is very little crossover between men’s and women’s gymnastics. However, the WUCG community is all about freedom, flexibility and trying new things. As a no-experience-necessary club sport, WUCG encourages people from all backgrounds to come to its open-gym-style practices on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the St. Louis Gym Centre in Webster Groves, Mo.
The team boasts a total of approximately 50 members — 30 competitive members who are currently training for the National Association of Intercollegiate Gymnastics Clubs (NAIGC) National meet this month in Memphis, Tenn., and another 20 recreational members who attend practices on a drop-in basis. Athletes represent a range of ages and experience levels, from first-year students to PhD candidates, beginners to former Division I athletes.
The Washington University community is invited to watch the team in action at its first spring showcase at 4 p.m. Saturday, March 25, at the St. Louis Gym Centre.
Co-president Rohan Kansagra said this year’s roster is the largest in club history. Members can compete on a level that feels comfortable for them.
“Gymnastics definitely has a reputation of requiring a lot of strength or being very scary and difficult, but we really encourage people to come and try new things,” said Kansagra, a senior. “Some of the best members of our team now are people who had never done the sport before or had only done it in some capacity a long time ago.”
Kansagra is one of the club’s four athletes training to compete in all 10 events at nationals. A former Level 10 gymnast, the highest level in the USA Gymnastics Junior Olympics Program, Kansagra joined WUCG in the spring of his first year at WashU.
“I had a really intense high school gymnastics experience where most people were practicing 23 hours a week,” Kansagra said. “I’ve been extremely grateful to have changed my relationship with the sport. I’m having some of the most fun I’ve ever had and doing some of the most confident gymnastics I’ve ever done.”
While Kansagra has been a gymnast nearly all his life, sophomore Juliet Whitehead had never done a flip before attending a practice. She stumbled upon the WUCG page shortly after she was admitted to WashU.
“It looked like such a fun time,” Whitehead said. “That’s really what I was looking for when I came to this school, just a club where it was OK if you didn’t have prior experience.”
Whitehead is most proud of learning to do a muscle-up on the rings, which requires gymnasts to use their upper-body strength to pull themselves up to the rings. This season, she also learned to do a pullover on the high bar.
“It has been such a struggle,” Whitehead said. “At the last meet, I told Dylan (her teammate and spotter), ‘Just stand next to me, and I’m going to try to do it, and when it doesn’t work, you’ll help pull me over.’ And then I tried it, and it worked, and I was so happy.”
Junior Madeline Brooks also came to WashU ready to try club gymnastics. A former Level 7 gymnast, Brooks has competed in all 10 events at every meet this season.
“I didn’t realize for a while that I could try any of the guys’ events. All the time that I had done gymnastics, it was very structured, and I only ever got to train with other girls,” Brooks said. “We had some other girls on the team who were trying out the guys’ events, and it just looked like a really welcoming environment. I just made it a challenge to myself to compete in 10 events.”
Now, Brooks’ favorite competitive event is men’s high bar. She recently placed first in the high bar in her division and took home third place in the men’s all-around competition at NAIGC Midwest Regionals in Wisconsin.
While WUCG emphasizes having fun, the team is also having its “most successful season ever,” said co-president Josie Lesser, a senior. At regionals, 12 athletes, including Brooks, placed in the top three in at least one event. The women’s artistic gymnastics Xcel Platinum and Level 9 teams also won their respective categories.
“When I was younger, club gymnastics really felt like an individual sport. It was much more about working really hard on your routine and perfecting your skills — that’s what was important,” Brooks said. “Now, in college, it’s about having a really fun time and getting to know your teammates.”