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Despite not being able to compete, Penn gymnastics has still found ways to train and bond as a team.

Credit: Chase Sutton

In the sports world, the coronavirus has taken away many opportunities from Penn athletes, but it has also opened the door for athletes to step up and contribute to their teams in new ways. 

The postponement of the season was tough news for Penn gymnastics. The close-knit team misses not only competing, but also the family it has created. 

Despite the devastating news, the team found hope in the fact that their season was postponed instead of canceled. Instead of spending this semester being disappointed by the news, the team decided to use this time to improve and be ready for whenever its season begins. 

“We are taking this time to not only heal ourselves physically, but also mentally as well and do what we need to do to stay safe, healthy, and as productive and prepared for whatever kind of season we may have,” senior Jordyn Mannino said. 

The intricacies and details of gymnastics make it a sport that really needs to be practiced year round. Unlike sports such as football and basketball, it is often difficult for gymnasts to find facilities to practice for their events. Without access to the Nalitt Family Gymnastics Center that the team calls home during the season, Penn gymnastics has had to take matters into its own hands. 

The majority of the Penn gymnastics team is in Philadelphia, which has given the athletes the opportunity to coordinate practice sessions independently. They have been able to find a local facility where they have gotten together to stay conditioned and stay sharp. While they are grateful to have the opportunity to continue practicing on their own, they are not taking social distancing guidelines and protocols for granted. They are putting their safety and health above everything, and ensuring they are following local guidelines and abiding by Penn’s Student Compact. 

“It makes me happy that they’re just trying to make the most of this time,” coach Kirsten Becker said. “They’re showing that they’re resilient and showing that they’re tough, and that’s what makes for a good team.”  

Credit: Son Nguyen

The Quakers have been making the best of an unfortunate situation, and that extends to building team culture outside of competition. Those in Philadelphia have been able to coordinate socially distant picnics and walks along the Schuylkill River. Meanwhile, they’ve also put together fun virtual meetings and check-ins, where they’ve been able to play games and talk with those not in Philadelphia. 

“We still have been incorporating things we’ve done last year, like study breaks where we meet with someone else on the team every week,” sophomore Rebekah Lashley said. “Now, yes, that’s on FaceTime or Zoom, but it still makes you feel like you’re there and part of the team.”

Most notably, senior Darby Nelson and junior Libby Garfoot have decided to lead virtual women’s empowerment and sports psychology Zoom meetings for the team. The pair thought it was important for the team to have time dedicated to talking about relevant issues and staying positive. The team gathered virtually for the first empowerment meeting on Saturday, and it was focused on promoting a positive body image for women in sports.

“They’re just trying to stay motivated and stay connected even though we aren’t all together,” Lashley said. “Libby has been working hard to promote positive body image for women in sports, and it’s been pretty cool actually.”

Coming off an impressive freshman season, Lashley remembers how important having her teammates there for her was to make the transition to college easier. Penn's new freshmen have already had an unconventional start to their collegiate career, but the team has tried its best to make the transition easier, even virtually. 

“[The freshmen are] all in Philly, and we’ve been contacting them through text messaging, FaceTime, and got to know them,” Lashley said. “We’re just so close and so supportive of one another that I don’t think this time apart is going to have an impact on that.”

Although disappointed by the postponed season, the Quakers have been making the most of their time apart. The team has taken an unfortunate experience and flipped that into an opportunity to grow as athletes and as people.

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