Finding a Balance

Alexandra Leggitt Adjusts to the Life of a Student-Athlete

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Nick Fradkin/File



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The Cal women's gymnastics team has six recruits signed for the upcoming season, many of whom have come up through top club programs and been consistent representatives at regional and state championships.

But although they have likely competed in the sport for much of their lives, collegiate gymnastics is different.

To get a sense of what a first-year transition entails, why not go to someone who has just experienced it?

Cal freshman Alex Leggitt started out like most gymnasts, working her way up from Level 1 to 10 with her club team. A three-year team captain for New Hope Gymnastics in Southern California, Leggitt placed second in the all-around at the 2006 Level 8 State Championships and won the regional beam championship in Level 9 the following season.

As college-application season came around, she would have to emphasize these competitive accomplishments along with her academics, and submit videos and letters of interest to college coaches "to let them know you're out there"-some of the same coaches that would be scouting intently during club meets.

"Your time is devoted to the sport," Leggitt says about what went into making that final commitment. "It has to be something you're really going to love and at a place you really want to be."

And upon arriving in Berkeley, a freshman's commitment would be tested early and often, starting with the Bears' demanding practice schedule.

The team trains for eight mandatory hours per week at the start of the school year, and when season training officially begins in November, the preparation grows to over 20 total hours, five days a week.

And if practice was challenging, then the competition schedule-nearly every weekend from early January to the end of March-was even more intense, according to Leggitt.

"In club, you have about six or seven meets ... every two weeks, but in college it's so different," she says. "If you don't do (physical therapy and treatment), your body is not going to last."

But apart from all of the work done inside the gym over the course of a season, Leggitt noted that one of the biggest-and most overlooked-adjustments forced upon first-year gymnasts is getting used to the facility itself.

"You're in a brand new gym," she says, "and I don't think people realize how difficult it is to get used to different surroundings."

Leggitt illustrated the potential impact of a new environment:

"On a double back flip on floor, you might be used to spotting the wall (as a guide) before you start flipping, but (in a new gym) everything around you looks different and it doesn't feel comfortable," she says. "I'd say well over half of the sport is mental ... (so) when you go to meets, you just have to adjust."

Yet not all of the challenges for a newcomer have to do with the performance in the gym-their performance in the classroom is just as pivotal.

Leggitt had already balanced academics and athletics in high school, but she notes that doing gymnastics in college presented new issues.

These include configuring a class schedule that puts her on a graduating path and fitting it around a four-hour-a-day practice schedule. When scheduling doesn't go as planned, Leggitt will be forced to take classes over the summer.

She has had to catch up on lectures missed due to road competitions that this year included trips to Oregon and Los Angeles over consecutive weekends, as well as two meets in three days in Michigan. In some cases, the gymnasts have had to take proctored midterm exams on the road trips.

Talking about the need for incoming gymnasts to juggle their commitments, Leggitt had a simple message about what to expect.

"If you can't get the grades, you can't do gymnastics," she says. "You're forced to arrange your time so that you're not just getting two hours of sleep ... because (otherwise) you're not going to survive."

The adjustments Leggitt made during her first season were considerable, but she noted that the freshmen would not be going through them alone-citing coach Cari DuBois as a source of guidance during her own freshman year in and out of the gym.

"Cari, from the beginning, was very conscious about what freshmen were going through," Leggitt says of her coach. "You can always walk in her door ... if you feel like you can't do something or it's too hard. She makes you feel very comfortable."

Most importantly, Leggitt cites the constant support of her teammates, many of whom had already experienced the same challenges.

Says Leggitt: "You're automatically bonded through all of the things you have to do together ... what one person gets, everyone gets."

This holds true for dealing with sudden injuries, a schoolwork overload or a dreaded 6 a.m. practice.

Come 2010, Leggitt will no longer be a newcomer, instead acting as a guide for the incoming class-a role she seems eager to fill.

"(Now) I know what they're going through because I just went through it recently," she says. "And I hope to help them as much as the upperclassmen helped me."

Tags: CAL WOMEN'S GYMNASTICS, CARI DUBOIS, ALEXANDRA LEGGITT


Contact Ed Yevelev at [email protected]



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