The Penn State Gymnastics Club, while full of experienced gymnasts, is home to novice athletes with hopes to learn a new skill. Made up of more than 100 registered members, the gymnastics club is open to students of all skill levels.
Nancy Hartman, (junior - music education) a new member of the Penn State Gymnastics Club, did not join the club in the fall purely for the love of the sport. The junior member of the Penn State Blue Band came to the gymnastics club with hopes to learn the famous downfield football strut and front flip for her drum major audition in the spring.
Coming in with no gymnastics experience, Hartman was intimidated by the advanced level of some of the gymnasts.
“Everyone was flipping around and doing awesome stuff that I just dreamed about doing,” Hartman said. “But once I told one person what I wanted to learn, the whole group just came right over and says ‘hey, do this, it will make it better, it will make it more efficient.’ ”
But however intimidating the experience was a first; Hartman believes that her experience in the club has given her more opportunities than just learning a front flip.
“Make it or not, I plan on coming back next year,” Hartman said, “Some of my closest friends are in this group now.”
According to club president, Marc Benoit (senior - mathematics) most members come to the gym to make friends and learn a new skill. Benoit said that 20 to 30 members have no previous gymnastics experience, and participate regularly in team practices, learning from their peers.
Jen Ronayne (senior - kinesiology) is one of the six gymnasts on the team with previous coaching experience to take on a leadership role of coaching new members.
“As a senior I just help out with the team and make sure everyone has their special requirements for their routine. If anyone wants to learn a new skill I’m usually there to spot them,” Ronayne said. “Mostly it is a team effort; we all coach each other we all help out in one way or another.”
Ronayne has 14 years of gymnastics experience, and five years of coaching under her belt, but finds that coaching her peers at a collegiate level is a completely different experience than coaching at her home gym.
“At home I am coaching girls in middle school and high school, and here I am coaching my peers. It is a little bit more relaxed here, it’s not a job and it’s more fun. I am hanging out with my friends while we continue our gymnastics careers,” Ronayne said.
The Penn State Gymnastics Club gives collegiate gymnasts the opportunity to practice and compete at their own pace and skill level without the pressure of competing on a varsity sport.
The club competes at various meets throughout the year, bringing around 35 gymnasts to participate in events of all levels. As a part of the National Association of Intercollegiate Gymnastics Clubs (NAIGC), the club competes in meets around the country against a variety of collegiate club teams.
“The national association that we belong to for club gymnastics, their slogan is ‘For the Love of the Sport’ and no matter what age or level of gymnastics we are, we all just go out there and have a good time,” Ronayne said. “Level doesn’t really matter on this team as long as were out there cheering for each other. Having fun is all that matters.”
The unique environment that the gymnastics club radiates to its members has proven beneficial in competition, where a combination of their skill and unity led both the men’s and women’s teams a second place finish at the 2012 NAIGC national competition.
Benoit, who placed first in event finals on both parallel and horizontal bars, and again in team finals on horizontal bars at nationals last year, expects another top three placement for men’s and women’s at nationals this year, scheduled for April 11-13, in Minneapolis, Min.
The Penn State Gymnastics Club will travel to Columbus, Ohio, on Jan. 26 to compete in the annual ‘Buckeye Blast’ meet, and later invites NAIGC teams to Happy Valley in the 2013 Nittany Lion Invitational on February 23.