Painted in huge, bold letters on the wall of Yates Gymnasium at the John Wooden Center are the words “Champions are made when no one is watching.” This is the motto that drives UCLA gymnastics.
The Bruins have had the best start to their season that they have seen in several years. Currently ranked No. 4, UCLA is 7-0 this season. The team heads to Oregon State this weekend for the first of three consecutive away meets.
“We have two more months left in the season. We have three back-to-back road trips. It’s really about what they are doing outside of the gym right now, whether they are being athletes 24/7,” said coach Valorie Kondos Field.
In addition to daily four-hour practices, Kondos Field said, being an athlete 24/7 entails studying, eating right and getting enough sleep in order to be at a prime level for competition.
UCLA gymnastics especially emphasizes the “student” role in being a student-athlete. Most of the team is on the Athletic Director’s Honor Roll.
“Everyone is disciplined. We want to succeed not only in gymnastics, but in academics as well. We want to do well in school and be successful in life outside gymnastics. It’s not all about the sport. But, when we walk in these doors we try and forget everything else, and focus on gymnastics,” junior Samantha Peszek said.
Peszek, who tore her Achilles tendon and is unable to compete this season, has taken the slogan displayed in the gym to heart. In addition to pursuing her rehabilitation for her injury, the former Olympian has taken on another role for her team.
“I’m using my strengths in a different way, non-athletically. In competition, I’m doing things for the girls that I wouldn’t be able to do if I was competing. Being a leader in a different way is my goal for the season,” Peszek said.
Another Bruin unable to compete this season is freshman Christine Peng-Peng Lee, who tore her ACL in May and is recovering from her August surgery.
“For us, being a champion when no one is watching is something we’re inspired by,” Lee said.
Lee, who sees a physical therapist every day as a part of her rehabilitation, is working hard to get better, something she said is made easier with the support of her teammates.
“I love the girls. They are all really supportive. We work really well together to make sure everyone is on track, and we hold each other accountable. We really are a Bruin family,” Lee said.
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