Gymnasts bend over backwards to maintain busy schedule

Kaelyn Rodrigues | Staff Writer

For junior Annie Riegert, the new block schedule makes it easier to manage school along with gymnastics.

When it comes to balancing school with other activities, student gymnasts are sure to stick the landing.

Junior Annie Riegert and senior Kelly Sulek have both been gymnasts for over a decade. The athletes, who both compete level 10 in the USA Gymnastics Junior Olympics program, attend Perfection Gymnastics School.

Riegert said she started gymnastics at the age of five. As she improved, coaches noticed her potential to pursue the sport competitively, so she committed to an intense schedule of up to 26 hours of practice a week. In elementary and middle school, Riegert sacrificed the beginning of the school day to attend morning practices.

“I experimented with a couple other [sports], but at the end of the day [gymnastics] was what I fell in love with,” Riegert said. “The more time went on, the more I would go to practice, and I would end up compensating my time by going to practice instead of school, so I would just come in late. I did that from fourth grade until eighth grade, and freshman year I started just [practicing] after school.”

Like Riegert, Sulek has had many absences over the years due to gymnastics practices and competitions. Sulek said she misses about 10 school days each year for gymnastics meets alone. 

“I have to miss school a lot,” Sulek said. “You have to take in travel days, especially if there is a chance for cancellations or delays, and practice days into consideration. You also don’t know what day you’ll compete [until] the week of, and you have to make your flight reservations way in advance. With all of that, the number of days you miss really add up.” 

Senoir Kelly Sulek misses about 10 school days each year for gymnastics meets; setting a schedule allows her to keep up with both commitments.

Many of these absences occur during competition season, which usually takes place from January until April. Each competition season differs for every individual gymnast, depending on whether or not one qualifies for state, regional, and national competitions. 

“With competition season in second semester, we travel a lot,” Sulek said. “We always have to fly out on a Wednesday or Thursday, and with that, always having to miss school and having to make up work with our teachers. It’s all just a big balancing act.”

While Sulek said it can be difficult to balance schoolwork with a rigorous athletic schedule, communicating with teachers in advance helps to organize and complete all of her tasks.

“Sometimes it can be hard, but it’s all about time management, setting a schedule, and realizing what’s most important,” Sulek said. “Prioritizing is a big key. I always go up to a teacher ahead of time, and say, ‘I’m going to be gone for these next couple days, is there any work that I can have?’”

Another factor that eases this struggle, according to Riegert, is the new block schedule that was introduced this year.

“Taking study hall and communicating with my teachers makes it better, especially as the year goes on, being able to compensate,” Riegert said. “The new schedule makes it a lot easier, like, ‘maybe I can save this for later so I can focus on sleep tonight.’”

On top of the demanding schedule, gymnasts who plan to pursue the sport after high school must begin reaching out to colleges and building an online presence in order to be recruited.

“You put your name out there,” Riegert said. “You can do social media, like I have an Instagram account and a YouTube account where I post updates of my [skills]. You can email coaches by sending them some of your highlights, and as it gets more serious you can have a conversation with them over the phone. They can come watch you practice, you can go on an unofficial [visit], and it can be very fun.”

Sulek said the college recruitment process, which can begin as early as freshman year of high school, is very lengthy and requires a lot of networking in order to be well acquainted with a variety of schools.

Sometimes it can be hard, but it’s all about time management, setting a schedule, and realizing what’s most important.

Kelly Sulek

“The process is really long and draining sometimes,” Sulek said. “On top of having to balance schoolwork and gymnastics, you have to post videos, email colleges, make websites, make Instagram accounts, and all this stuff to get your name out there to colleges. People that are best in the nation will have colleges reaching out them, but a lot of the time people have to reach out to colleges. It’s a long process, like three years of trying to figure out where you want to go to school.”

At the end of the process, Sulek chose to continue her gymnastics career at Ball State University (BSU). Sulek said she committed to BSU because of its comforting atmosphere and gymnastics program.

“When I stepped onto campus, it felt like home,” Sulek said. “The coaches were so welcoming, and they genuinely have the athletes’ best interests at heart. The team was so welcoming, and the environment was just one that I couldn’t refuse. The facilities are absolutely amazing, and being given the opportunity to be able to compete at a school like Ball State is beyond anything I could’ve ever imagined.”

Photos by Mia Sweitzer.