Iowa women’s gymnastics freshman Karina Muñoz emphasizes positive mindset in competition

The Hawkeye gymnast stressed the importance of attitude and team culture when competing in a demanding sport.


Lillie Hawker

Iowa gymnast Karina Muñoz competes on the beam during a gymnastics meet between Iowa and Minnesota in Iowa City on Friday, Jan. 27, 2023. The Hawkeyes and the Gophers tied with each getting a 196.875.

Jami Martin-Trainor, Assistant Digital Editor

Freshman Karina Muñoz’s route to the Iowa women’s gymnastics team was far from typical. When the New Jersey native started the process, a recurring hindrance on college athletics halted her traditional recruitment process — the COVID-19 pandemic.

Muñoz was living in her hometown East Brunswick during her recruitment process, meaning she and the Iowa gymnastics coaches couldn’t fly out to meet one another. So, in lieu of face-to-face interactions, Muñoz got to know her future coaches through Zoom.

Muñoz said she joined the call on a weekly basis and talked about gymnastics for about 10 minutes. Then, for the next several hours, she and the Iowa gymnastics coaches would talk about nearly everything else.

From her family to how school was going, the coaches were adamant about getting to know Muñoz beyond her gymnastic abilities.

“That was something that really struck me, because other schools, I feel like it’s more just like they want you for your gymnastics,” Muñoz said. “They want to make sure that [I] fit in with the whole culture of the team, and that’s something that really struck me and why I committed here.”

Libby said while Muñoz’s skills and abilities were good, her personality and desire to thrive was the ultimate reason they wanted her on the team.

When Muñoz first joined the Hawkeyes, Libby said the coaching staff tested her ability to improve by requesting she change her bar dismount. Muñoz could have done it her own way, but Libby said she immediately complied and was willing to grow.

“For us, that’s what we wanted, and that’s what we’re looking for,” Libby said.

In the gymnastics field, both Muñoz and Libby stress the importance of mentality. With a sport that is so physically demanding and requires constant focus, Libby said a positive growth mindset is key.

This season has been especially grueling and hard on the GymHawks, Libby said. With the sheer number of new recruits, Libby knew they would be going down a long and hard road.

As the GymHawks returned to a sense of normalcy, and COVID-19 restrictions were lifted, Libby said she pushed her athletes beyond their limits. While Libby knows she was hard on her team, she hopes to maintain this improvement.

Muñoz said she set personal goals for improvement along with the push for success from coaches. Rather than having an end destination, Muñoz wants her team to get better and score higher at every meet.

“You have to be committed every single day you go to the gym and every time you’re going for your skills,” Muñoz said. “Just be the best person you could possibly be in order to ensure that your practice or your competition that day is the best that can be.”

As someone who joined the team as a freshman, Libby said there is typically a steep learning curve going from club gymnastics to college gymnastics.

Before college, however, Muñoz participated on both her high school and club gymnastics teams, meaning she was privy to the demands and expectations set by her current coaches.

“It takes a toll on your body,” Libby said. “It takes time to get used to adapting to all of that. She blended well with that whole idea and knew how to pace herself.”

Libby said the team has been able to focus on the aspects that are in the gymnasts’ control. Despite the struggles associated with gymnastics, the GymHawks have highlighted the positives.

Muñoz contributes to this general attitude, with the goal of putting her best foot forward every time she takes the competitive stage. No team is comprised of a single member, but team culture is cultivated by the attitudes of each individual.

“They stay focused on the right things, which is the things you can control: your attitude, your effort, and how much fun you’re having,” Libby said.