By LEWIS WALKER
At age five, fearless in the places where most people outside of gymnastics would crumble like a game of Jenga gone wrong, stood Stephanie McAllister. Today with a full-ride gymnastics scholarship to the University of Utah, she is competing against some of the greatest gymnasts in the nation outside of the Olympics.
When McAllister was younger, she was involved in soccer, cheer, dance, pewee baseball, and figure skating, but gymnastics wasn’t always a sure route for her. “Once I got into gymnastics I was good at it but I wasn’t sure if that’s what I wanted to do,” McAllister said.
As McAllister got older her coaches reassured her that she had talent, but going further in her sport it would require her commitment to hard work and attention to certain skills. With the passion and desire to be great, and only at the age of five most would be impressed by the goals she had set for herself. “Stephanie was always the child that wanted to try new things, or planned do things,” said Jenny McAllister, Stephanie’s mother. “As I got into gym I had goals of working my way up through the levels as fast as I could,” McAllister said.
In gymnastics, the levels range from one to 10, but once you get to level 10 most of the competitors are home-schooled and their lives are basically living at the gym, but you would think a teenager would love to be out playing with their friends, this isn’t the case if these athletes choose this route. Now at the age 21, McAllister, the Indiana native has found a comfort in Utah where she has spent the last four years of her life.
Knowing she wanted to go to college, McAllister worked her way up through the levels quickly, limiting herself to level 10, being the highest before becoming elite and being eligible to compete for the Olympics. Like Nastia Liukin, McAllister did not want to become a professional and miss out on the opportunity to become a part of an institution where she would make great friends and form relationships with people she would always remember. “ I always take pictures and my friends make fun of me because every opportunity I have I get my camera out,” McAllister said.
“I didn’t want to exceed level 10 because I didn’t want to give up my life like some other girls,” McAllister said. “Most girls give up the most important times of their lives just to end up in the same place as I am today.” She added that most coaches like the gymnast coming out of level 10 because they are not as burnt out as others and they didn’t give up everything just to train. Only six people get chosen to compete in the U.S. Olympics, so is it really worth giving up and missing out on things in your teenage years just to end up in the same predicament as the rest of your competition?
Today Stephanie McAllister has perfected a gymnastics move on the uneven bars, which is her biggest strength named after herself, “the McAllister.” She performs the move by doing a reverse gripped hand-stand on the high bar into a front spin and back to a hand-stand flipping her grip and down into a hanging position. “To be able to have a move named after you, you need to perform it at a national meet with it never being done before,” she said.
“ I am exceptionally proud of my daughter and where she is in life right now, enjoying every moment, and must I add– a soon to be college graduate,” said Jenny McAllister.
Many people have looked up to McAllister over her years spent at the University, one being freshman Kailah Delaney. “Stephanie has taught me a lot about being a college athlete and juggling my studies,” Delaney said. Many times student-athletes think sports are the reasons they ended up where they are but that isn’t the foundation of what your future is made of. “ It is good to have someone to look up to when your young because not everyone knows the right things to do, but she has helped me a lot,” Delaney said.
Over the past four years the University of Utah is proud to have gained such a talented, caring person to help their team make its 37th consecutive National Championship appearance possible, she will be missed when the Red Rocks take the Huntsman Arena next year.
Photo credits: Left to right- By:Lewis Walker, By:Lewis Walker,By:Taner Pasamehmetoglu (The Daily Utah Chronicle)