Gymnastics team adjusts to life outside the sport after a season cut short
Despite her senior season ending early because of the coronavirus pandemic, UCLA gymnastics’ Kyla Ross said she’s trying to look on the bright side of the situation and forge ahead. (Andy Bao/Daily Bruin)
By Coral Smith
May 5, 2020 6:38 p.m.
On April 18, UCLA gymnastics had planned to be in Fort Worth, Texas, competing for its second national championship in three years. Instead, the members of the squad memorialized the day with a Zoom call from their homes across the country.
“It literally was one of the best days of my whole quarantine,” said senior Kyla Ross. “Just seeing everyone and having that celebration summed up the hard work and dedication we spent to get here. And even though we didn’t get to end (the season) by competing, we were still somewhat together that day virtually, which was nice.”
Now, almost two months from finding out all NCAA sports would end the seasons because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Bruins have started to come to terms with the abrupt end to their season.
The gymnastics season ended just a week before the Bruins were slated to compete in the Pac-12 championship to kick off the postseason. Junior Kendal Poston said having come so close to the ultimate goal only for it to be cut short left her in limbo when she initially went home.
“For me personally, I was so ready and gearing up for postseason,” Poston said. “I think that my team especially was so dialed into those feelings of being so close, so ready for the postseason and it was kind of an abrupt stop to those. So even when I got home I still felt like I had all this energy, and what was my purpose now?”
Coach Chris Waller, who was poised to take the Bruins back to the national championship in his first year as head coach, said when the team first heard the news, he and the coaching staff gathered the squad to talk through the upcoming days. He reminded the team that despite having been shut down just short of the finish line, it still had much to be proud of.
“We met on that Saturday when we were supposed to be competing in our senior meet, and we reminisced about the year, and I pointed out to them that we didn’t start the year with our only goal being to win a national championship,” Waller said. “That was the huge shining goal, but we started off the season by deciding to build the team based on trust, and to build something really special with our group of people. And we accomplished those two things.”
Most of the Bruins’ nine seniors have therefore concluded their time with UCLA gymnastics, as the NCAA voted not to give winter athletes an extra year of eligibility. Ross is instead making plans to return to Westwood with the rest of the team next season as a student assistant coach.
Already planning on using a fifth year of study to complete her degree in molecular, cell and developmental biology, Ross said when Waller approached her with the opportunity to extend her time with gymnastics, she didn’t hesitate to accept the coaching position.
“Being a gymnast for the last 20 years, I feel like it would have been a really hard transition to just hang it up and be removed,” Ross said. “I think that’s kind of helping me get through this weird time, is knowing that I’m still able to come back to UCLA sometime next year, and be with the team as a coach. … So just still having that connection to the sport and being able to inspire people through a different facet is something I’m really excited for and looking forward to.”
For the Bruins who will be competing when next season starts, they’ve had to get creative with quarantine workouts to make up for the nationwide gym closures.
Poston said while any other year she’d be continuing her normal offseason workout routine, she’s trying to enjoy the rare opportunity to explore other forms of exercise.
“I’ve picked up a lot more yoga, and I’ve been going for runs as well. Normally, during competition season, I don’t run just to prevent the extra strain on my body, but a lot of us are picking up new habits, new hobbies that we find joy in,” Poston said. “That’s a very special thing for a gymnast because, throughout our careers, we normally don’t get more than a week away from the sport, so even though it’s unfortunate, … we’re all finding a lot of joy in things we might never have pursued if this didn’t happen.”
While what a 2021 gymnastics season would look like is still uncertain, Ross said she and the rest of the team are just trying to appreciate the small bright spots in the meantime, instead of focusing on what they missed out on.
“My sister normally lives in Hawaii and she’s back (home) too, and it’s been really cool. We’ve been having a lot of family dinners, and that was kind of never the deal growing up because I was always at the gym,” Ross said. “So it’s kind of cool to have that, even if it’s under these crazy circumstances.”