At first glance, one may assume it was natural for Michigan men’s gymnasts Adam Wooten and Alan Gerdov to be a package deal. The two have taken part in the bond that comes from competing for a school with a storied athletic culture and have ridden that bond from clicking at Wooten’s recruiting trip all the way to Israel to compete at the Maccabiah Games. Listen to them share gymnastics stories, and you’ll hear them laugh through wildly different anecdotes that arrive at the same destination: living loudly and embracing their identities.
Attitude is everything to Gerdov, who wrapped up competing in NCAA after completing his engineering masters program in the spring. In his own words, he “had every role on the team” in his time in Ann Arbor. He now works for Microsoft and is Michigan gymnastics’ self-appointed biggest fan. Go to one of Michigan’s meets, and he’ll be yelling “go blue” for Wooten—one of this year’s team captains and a two-time high bar All-American who somehow also finds time to drum for Joe and the Ruckus.
Initially in different recruiting classes, the duo shared a collegiate debut at 2020’s Windy City Invitational. This was Wooten’s first taste of NCAA competition and one he describes for many as “a big test of where you are for the season.” Gerdov shares that he went into the meet with a freshman mentality, as it was his first year on the team. Close friends and teammates Cameron Bock and Anthony Tawfik had encouraged him to rejoin the roster as a junior after medically retiring before competition season in his freshman year. Michigan left that meet with a win, but true to the team’s culture (which Wooten credits Gerdov with creating), they wanted more. That season was cut short before the postseason could happen due to COVID, but in two years time the Wolverines ran away with the Big Ten championship and landed within a tenth of second place at nationals.
After nationals the two stayed in the gym, in what they both describe as a push to prepare for the Maccabiah Games; a competition which, as a testament to their friendship, the two wouldn’t have attended without each other. They’d both had meniscus tears since arriving in Ann Arbor and trained cautiously, “playing chess to find the best sets” up until the last minute, as Wooten calls it. Their excitement carried them through from postseason to the Maccabiah, where the pair finished the competition with a combined total of four individual medals as well as silver with Team Maccabi USA.
For Gerdov, this was his planned swan song as a gymnast and one he looks back on as a fairytale. For Wooten, it was a final test before taking over from Gerdov as one of Michigan’s captains. To both, this meet was a “synthesis of sports and Judaism”—two aspects of their lives that they’ll never separate, from life lessons to inspiring figures.
Within the sport, they look up to Israeli superstar Alex Shatilov: a taller gymnast who serves as a guide to Wooten (who jokes that he and Gerdov are six foot four) for what a tall gymnast is supposed to look like. Out of the sport, Gerdov—who is admittedly not a football fan—admires former Patriots’ wide receiver Julian Edelman for his commitment as an athlete and the compassion he displays toward others. In recent years, Edelman has been seen as a role model in the Jewish community, offering to educate prominent figures about their antisemitic remarks. The recent Michigan grad firmly believes the way you do anything is the way you do everything, making his schooling, gymnastics and culture inseparable.
He affirms that identity doesn’t stop at one’s sport and religion, further adding how their histories are woven into their outlooks. “Look at the history of our Jewish people, and more anecdotal histories of our families—things that our parents have faced—and it doesn’t just stop at being Jewish, right? Adam has a lot of very relevant Black history in his life, my parents are from Ukraine, these are very fundamental to who we are, and you can see it in the way we approach problems in the other avenues. I don’t think I’d be as good of a gymnast as I was if I didn’t learn those values from my parents and the discrimination they faced from being Jewish.” To separate any of these would be to reject a part of themselves, which both boldly say isn’t who they are.
If one thing’s for certain, it’s that Adam will take all of his own advice going into this season at Michigan. He eagerly shared that the goal this year is to win, and that as their goals grow, so must the team. Michigan’s schedule began with the Maize and Blue intrasquad on December 10, and the Wolverines are slated to open their NCAA season hosting new programs Greenville and Simpson on January 7.
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Article by Peri Goodman
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