Iowa women’s gymnastics back to work after unexpected months off

The team couldn’t practice for up to three months because of closed facilities.


Shivansh Ahuja

Iowa’s Jax Kranitz competes on uneven bars during a women’s gymnastics meet between Iowa and Iowa State at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Friday, March 1, 2019. Kranitz scored 9.8 in the event. The Hawkeyes, celebrating senior night, fell to the Cyclones, 196.275-196.250.

Chloe Peterson, Sports Reporter

Gymnasts never take time off. They’re in the gym almost every day of the week, maintaining and improving their craft. So, when gymnastics facilities closed around the country in March, the Iowa women’s gymnastics team was worried about maintaining its skills.

Gyms reopened at varying times over the summer in the athletes’ hometowns. Senior gymnast Erin Castle’s hometown gym in Boone, Iowa, opened back up in mid-May.

“I think it was kind of a little bit scary for all of us,” Castle said. “You never really know how your body is going to handle coming back, especially with gymnastics after taking that much time off – most of us had never had more than a month off in our entire careers.”

Junior Lauren Guerin’s gym in Austin, Texas, didn’t open until late June, giving her more than three months off from any gymnastics.

“I definitely was worried about [losing some skills],” Guerin said. “It was more trying to keep up my strength and endurance than anything, I mean it’s easy to get the skills back, but if you don’t have the strength, that’s the hard part.”

Head coach Larissa Libby said that she was worried about her team losing some skills as well, but also realized that some time off could be beneficial.

“We encouraged them to just stay in shape,” Libby said. “And sometimes the rest is good on your body, you know, little ailings, achings, and tiny things get healed that way.”

Before the remainder of the gymnastics season was canceled in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Libby said that the team was “in a position that we have never seen before,” and in a good position to make a run at the NCAA tournament.

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Almost the entire team is back for the season this year.

Multiple health and safety changes have been implemented during practice for the season. Every gymnast on the team has their own chalk bucket to eliminate any potential cross-contamination, and everyone has to complete a symptom checker and get their temperature taken before entering the gym every day. Everybody, including athletes, in the gym is wearing masks.

Although it was an adjustment, the gymnasts haven’t seen any issues wearing masks so far.

“At first it was hard to get used to, especially if you’re breathing hard,” Guerin said. “They honestly stay in place more than I thought they would, like flipping around, so definitely better than expected.”

The team has also been serious about staying six feet apart. Athletically, because gymnastics events are individual, it has been very difficult, Libby said. It has affected the team because it traditionally relies on high-fives and other forms of closeness during practice.

“In this sport, we’re lucky, and we can afford to social distance, but we’re a close team, so it’s hard,” Libby said. “It’s amazing what a six-foot gap does to inspiration and motivation.”

Despite the changes, Guerin said that practice is still a very positive environment.

Outside practice, Libby said that the team is serious about considering where they go in the community and doing everything that they can to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. For the team, that means fewer opportunities to bond in person.

In a normal year, Castle said, the team would be together all the time and heading to the dorms to get to know the freshmen, but that is not allowed this year. Instead, she is making more of an effort to talk and get to know the freshmen during practice, and the team is using Zoom in place of in-person get-togethers.

When the season comes around this winter, the team is aware of the risks of competing at another school and interacting with other people outside Iowa City.

“I think there’s always the risk, but I know the university and Larissa [Libby] herself will make sure that our safety and health are the first priority,” Guerin said. “If she thinks going somewhere isn’t a good idea, I know she’s not going to risk it.”

Libby said that the most important aspect of competition this year is active communication between the competing schools.

“[With other schools] I just need to ask, what are you doing, COVID-wise, so that I know my team is protected,” Libby said.