Four hours of gymnastics a day “isn’t a big deal” to junior gymnast Nicole Leary. This is her second year training at Novato Gymnastics after transferring from Gymworld Gymnastics in San Rafael, where she began gymnastics at four years old.
“I had been thinking about switching to Novato for about five years,” Leary said. “It never seemed like the right time but after my last season [at San Rafael] when I was a sophomore, I realized the equipment wasn’t that good and most of my coaches left, so it seemed like the right time.” She is a level nine gymnast, training to be a level ten, which qualifies as college level gymnastics.
Leary’s average school week differs from that of other student athletes. Four days a week she comes home right after school to prepare for gymnastics practice. “I leave my house at 3:45 and drive up to gymnastics in Novato which starts at 4:30. It ends at 8:30 and I get home at 9:05 and do my homework until whenever it’s finished.” Leary practices a total of five days a week, including weekends, when she sometimes competes at meets.
“People think its nerve racking going into a test, but competing is twenty times worse and much more stressful. Everyone is looking at you and you can’t mess up. They expect you to be absolutley perfect. Perfect handstands, perfect form, perfect everything,” she said.
Leary finds that time management is an important part of being a gymnast, “The hardest thing is mentally being able to do gymnastics and getting yourself to do skills but also finding a balance between school, friends and gym so you’re not just all gymnastics or school,” she said.
Leary cannot imagine her life without gymnastics, but, she does not plan on continuing her sport beyond high school. Leary understands that participating in collegiate gymnastics requires even more time commitment than her current five-day-a-week practice schedule.
“I would consider doing club [gymnastics] in college but not NCAA, especially because my whole college experience would be gymnastics and my whole life has been gymnastics,” she said.
Junior Lauren Ross, a former teammate, competed with Leary at Gymworld for 11 years.
“Our relationship was very competitive and once I would get a skill, she would always want to get the same skill and vice versa,” Ross said of Leary.
The two have trained together since they were four years old. For 11 years, they pushed each other during every practice to be better gymnasts. “We were always the dynamic duo in gymnastics and once I left, she took the opportunity to make it her thing and has developed as a gymnast and gotten crazy skills,” Ross said.
Even though it takes a mental and physical toll on her, Leary perseveres through the grueling and time consuming season each year. “Although gymnastics is a team sport, it is also very individual and you learn so much about yourself. It taught me commitment, responsibility, self-discipline and work ethic,” she said. “In gymnastics, you can reflect on yourself when going through the best and worst times. You see yourself in your proudest moments but you also see yourself at your worst.”