Jesse Bustamante came to UCLA unsure of his future in competitive gymnastics. After six years of competing through middle school and high school, he found his opportunities limited to open gym.
One day at open gym, where students are allowed to utilize the facilities in the John Wooden Center, his talents were noticed by members of the UCLA Spirit Squad, and he was soon a member of the notable group.
But even in the midst of this opportunity, Bustamante missed being able to compete in the sport he loved.
The men’s team at UCLA, however, was cut in 1994, leaving no opportunity for men ““ or women not on the NCAA team ““ to compete in gymnastics.
Last year, Bustamante decided to change that.
“After I spent a year doing open gym, I saw how many people would like to have the option of having a gymnastics club,” said Bustamante, a second-year economics student. “With that, I found that there was enough of a student community for that to be needed.”
Bustamante, who is both the vice president and the coach of the newly-formed club team, hopes the team will reach competitive status by the end of the year. Although their efforts have been limited by the construction of Yates Gym in the Wooden Center, the club will begin formal practice after the construction is completed in January.
They will then aim to join National Association of Intercollegiate Gymnastics Clubs, an organization which has experienced huge growth as schools continue to cut men’s gymnastics programs.
And as NAIGC continues to become more competitive, Bustamante said he believes UCLA has enough talented gymnasts to become a presence in the organization.
“I think a lot of people, given that they’ve been living gymnastics for the past five, maybe 10 years of their lives, they’d be willing to put in the effort to continue competing,” he said.
Gymnastics club president Shannon Esswein, a third-year physiological science major, is one of those longtime gymnasts.
She has done competitive gymnastics for six years, and believes the club will offer members both a social and competitive benefit. By allowing dedicated gymnasts to train around others of the same level, she said she believes the level of skill on the team will develop quickly.
“The success of our team will all depend on the abilities of our members and it looks really promising,” Esswein said. “We could potentially become one of the strongest groups here even, based on the interest of members.”
While their practice opportunities are limited, the group is focusing on reaching out to potential members.
Jennifer Donn, a third-year world arts and cultures and French student, said she is eager to show UCLA’s potential gymnasts the benefits of joining the club team rather than practicing alone.
“Our main goal is to increase awareness and get up and running in January,” said Donn, the team’s treasurer. “I think the club will offer a lot of opportunities that open gym won’t. It will offer a structured system for improving gymnastics.”