The Daily Californian Online

Journey Man

By Evan Aczon
Contributing Writer
Friday, May 8, 2009
Category: Sports > Winter > Gymnastics (Men's)

Pop quiz:

Name the Cal men's gymnast that returned from Minnesota with an NCAA individual championship.

Sophomore sensation Kyle Bunthuwong? Wrong. Freshman phenom Glen Ishino? Two strikes. Senior stalwart and team captain Kyson Bunthuwong? Three up, three down.

If you had Evan Roth's name tucked away, you just missed your chance.

Roth isn't a household name for Cal fans, but an NCAA still rings title is all the recognition the journeyman senior needs. Note the term "journeyman." Roth had many stops along the way to becoming a champion.

A New York native, Roth started gymnastics at age seven and continued throughout high school, participating in the Junior National Championships all four years. The training started to take up more of his time, and Roth frequently found himself in the gym every day for four hours.

"After I switched gyms, my training started to get a lot better," says Roth. "I had a much more serious coach and much more serious training. You don't get as much time to hang out with your friends as everyone else, but you get used it. Gymnastics was what I wanted to do."

After high school, Roth's next stop was Temple. But following his freshman year, his confidence was shaken. The Owls' program left him with more questions than answers.

"There was a lot that just didn't fit," says Roth. "I saw my gymnastics getting worse, and no one was doing anything about it."

With the pressures of a Division I athletic program weighing down on him, Roth took a chance with former Temple gymnast Stephen Smith, who coached in Santa Barbara, Calif. Smith invited Roth to train with him over the summer, hoping that maybe a change of scenery would rekindle his competitive fire.

It didn't turn out as Smith anticipated.

"When I was in Santa Barbara, I wasn't tied down to an NCAA program. It was really all on me whether I wanted to work out or not," Roth says. "Then (Smith) moved back to the East Coast. That's when I stopped."

For the first time in 11 years, Roth stopped gymnastics. No training, no gym and no coaching. But that feeling didn't sit well.

"For a good two months I stopped going to the gym, and I felt like crap," he says. "When I started getting serious again, I said, 'I'm going to do this. My number one goal is just, I want to see how good I can get.'"

Reaching that goal meant a permanent change of location. Roth decided to stay in California, where he could continue improving his skills. His parents were in Europe for the summer, and he had no idea how they would react.

"Eventually they called me," Roth says with a laugh. "I was like, 'Mom, I just dropped all my classes at Temple and signed up for Santa Barbara City College.' I thought they'd be mad, but they commended me on being brave to make the move."

With his parents' support, and that of Smith, Roth stayed in Santa Barbara for his sophomore year and reached out to Cal coach Barry Weiner.

"Evan was a real hard worker," says Smith. "He came in as a skinny kid, but had the potential to get real strong. Cal was the best place for him to get what he needed to get to that next level."

After he made contact with Weiner, Roth was recruited and eventually accepted. Roth was elated, but that feeling was short-lived.

"It was the hardest training I've ever had, and I was a couple years behind guys in my class," says Roth. "(At first) I would do our warmup and be exhausted for the day."

Despite the setbacks, Cal's coaches saw his potential. Roth had the body type to excel on rings, and although he couldn't do some of the basic skills at first, the staff molded him into a top athlete and team captain.

"When I first came in, I thought I was better at other events," says Roth. "But I got stronger, and put a lot of trust in the coaches. I said, 'Train me.' I was doing things I'd never done before, and that tore my shoulder up."

That led to the first surgery on his shoulder, which kept him out of commission for that first summer. A knee surgery kept him on the sidelines for his second summer.

"I had to have a goal in sight," he says. "When you don't have a goal, when every turn you take hurts your body, it's really hard to keep going. As long as you have a goal in mind, that's enough to get past some discomfort."

With the highest individual honor of the collegiate ranks in hand, Roth only has one more goal in mind:

"I'm healthy this summer and going to the U.S. Championships to take one more stab at making the national team," he says.

When asked if he would change anything about his journey, Roth simply says, "Not at all. If I didn't go to Temple, I wouldn't have gone to Santa Barbara, and wouldn't have a connection to Cal, so not at all.

"It was the ideal way to end my (collegiate) career."

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