If each of the four seasons of a college gymnast’s year were represented by one of the four apparatuses, preseason would be bars: a slow, fluid build. Competition season would be floor, with moments of both power and grace that is punishing to the body over the long term. The postseason would be vault: an exhibition of extreme power under pressure that’s over in the blink of an eye.
And the offseason? Well that’s all about balance. Seven gymnasts from a combination of five Division I and Division II schools, who were based in six different states for the summer, spoke about their different approaches to balancing work and play, gymnastics and rest, and strength and skills training.
The first decision most said they had to make about their summers was choosing whether to train in their college gyms during the offseason, or at their club gyms if they opted to return to their hometowns for the summer.
On each of their teams, these gymnasts said, there were some who returned home each summer to train in former club gyms. Aaliyah Gilmore, a freshman at Texas Woman’s University, stayed in her hometown of Severn, Maryland, to train at her club gym, Win-Win Gymnastics, for the summer. Gilmore is a pre-med major but focused this summer on seeing family and friends before she moved halfway across the country for school and gymnastics.
Gilmore’s teammate, senior Steelie King, said that she went home in May after the gymnastics season and the spring semester ended, to train at her club gym in Longview, Texas. She wanted to “say hi to everybody,” she said. She spent time with family and friends before heading back to TWU’s campus in Denton, Texas, in advance of her final year of gymnastics.
Auburn senior Olivia Hollingsworth, a biomedical sciences major, went home to Texas for the summer and trained at her club gym World Champions Centre. She also did an internship at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston as a summer scholar, working in a clinic for tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC) pediatric patients.
“It’s nice to go home and train with your friends,” Hollingsworth said, noting that although she was working a full-time job in her hometown, this was the first summer she did not have to take on-campus classes at Auburn.
Many upperclassmen, however, were living on their college campuses all summer in order to take classes, work at local internships, or both.
A perk of this arrangement, most said, was access to their campus athletic facilities and to coaches who were present at voluntary practices to give feedback if requested.
For those entering their final year of both college and gymnastics, careers began to take shape during this past offseason. Several held summer internships in fields that correlated with their majors and their plans for their post-gymnastics careers.
Chae Campbell, a senior at UCLA, interned at Project X, a film company, in Los Angeles, which she said involved stepping out of her comfort zone. “This offseason for me was more geared toward what I want to do career-wise, and also balancing having fun,” Campbell said. To fulfill her foreign-language requirement at UCLA, she took an American Sign Language course.
Stephanie Zannella took a summer course at Rutgers, where she is a senior, and shadowed an orthodontist.
Florida senior Ellie Lazzari stayed in Gainesville and interned at the nonprofit organization Child Advocacy Center. Lazzari, a psychology major with a concentration in behavior analysis, hopes to become a sports psychologist. Learning to work with children who had been through trauma provided her with a good foundation for working with young athletes, many of whom, she said, also endure trauma at points in their careers.
Auburn junior Sophia Groth, who plans to graduate a year early, before using her final year of gymnastics eligibility to acquire a master’s degree, used her Alabama campus as a home base while working as an instructor for Beam Queen Boot Camp. Groth strategically planned the nine Beam Queen Boot Camp events she did this summer, across seven states, for the beginning and end of the summer so she would have a dedicated block of time to train at Auburn’s gym in between.
NCAA coaches are strictly forbidden to require practices or even issue workouts in the summer. Most gymnasts said their college coaches would let them know times they would be in the gym for voluntary practices, and would then issue feedback or corrections if the gymnast asked. But their time is their own to fill as they please. “Honestly, at this point, we’re all responsible for our own gymnastics,” Campbell said.
Sessions in the gym, Zannella said, are “way lighter” than in season. Zannella and some of her teammates created a game out of their summer workouts for the Rutgers squad; teammates compete for points. “Just for fun,” she said.
Several gymnasts said that summer is the time when they are able to best build strength without overtaxing their bodies. Mornings in the weight room — or, in Hollingsworth’s case, “a normal workout gym” as opposed to a gymnastics gym — were common practice across schools. Weight lifting and conditioning take center stage, followed by a gradual re-entry of skills, skill progressions, and finally routines, just in time for preseason workouts to begin.
“That’s when you really build your strength,” said Lazzari.
Gilmore said that on a scale of one to 10, her summer strength workouts are “in that eight, nine, 10 range.” In the preseason, that drops to about a six or seven, and to a four or five during season.
Groth has been learning new skills over the summer — a tucked Yurchenko one and a half on vault, a shootover on bars, a cartwheel to gainer full beam dismount. She also took some tough science classes — organismal biology and physics — toward her exercise science major. While she was working with Beam Queen Boot Camp, the organizers made sure to give the staff time to sightsee and enjoy the new cities they were in. “That kind of stuff fills my tank,” Groth said.
Rest during the summer is critical for gymnasts, whose bodies have taken a pounding for months on end during season. And unlike in club gymnastics, when gymnasts often practice throughout the summer with little time for vacation, many college gymnasts find comparably more freedom in their schedules during the offseason.
Ellie Lazzari, who is recovering from a torn Achilles that curtailed her 2023 season, said, “I’ll probably be in [physical therapy] for the rest of my career,” but reported that she was feeling “a lot stronger and more confident in my body.” She also went on a service trip to Costa Rica with a group of Florida athletes from different sports. “It was super fulfilling,” she said, adding that while the group did service projects for their first week, the second week served as a vacation.
Campbell, along with her cousins and some of her UCLA teammates, traveled to New York to attend a dance convention during the summer. “Just to have fun and relax,” she said.
Like Campbell, Zannella focused on fun when she was not working. She took a vacation to Canada and visited friends on a trip home. She did not look for a gym on her travels, something she said she had done on summer trips in the past. “We’re finding our own schedule,” she said of her fellow seniors.
Hollingsworth went on a Caribbean cruise with her family over the summer. She said she sometimes struggled to find that summer balance of work and play. “It’s important to hold yourself accountable,” she said, and “don’t take too much time off,” though Hollingsworth said her vacation was both welcome and necessary.
Campbell summed up the offseason for a college gymnast, noting that finding that balance between work and play was a learned skill for her after she got to college and her schedule was more of her own making. “I love to be busy,” Campbell said, “but I also want to have fun.”
After all the athletic and academic work these athletes put in throughout the school year, the summer season of balance is what every gymnast needs to recharge. Now they’re all back on campus, getting into the swing of school and practice, before they take the floor for competition season. The cycle continues.
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Article by Lela Moore