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Senior flies solo

BY ROBBIE LEHMAN | JANUARY 28, 2010 7:30 AM

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Three years ago, Jenny Donar was just another member of the Iowa women’s gymnastics team’s incoming 2007 class.

Now, she is the only one left.

Grades, homesickness, and family issues have given her a special role. She leads by example, hoping to leave her mark on the Iowa program in her final season of competition.

“I hope that I can be able to prove that hard work does pay off,” Donar said. “If you keep working and trying, eventually, you will become a part of the team.”

The pre-med major understands the concept of hard work.

A native of Cuba City, Wis., Donar took up the sport when her mother opened West Side Gymnastics in Dubuque, 30 miles from the Iowa-Wisconsin boarder.

With a high-school wrestling coach for a father, a Badger grappler for a brother, and above average athleticism running through her blood, gymnastics came naturally to her.

Eventually, Donar managed to become a walk-on for Iowa head coach Larissa Libby, who granted her a scholarship as a sophomore.

But during her final two seasons, Donar reverted to walk-on status. Never fleeing from an opportunity, she has earned a fitting nickname for her style.

“We call it backyard gymnastics,” Libby said. “She pretty much taught herself, so when she came to us, she had a lot of really bad habits. It took us a year to try to get control of those bad habits. She’s done a really, really good job in that time.”

Over the years, Donar has also become increasingly valuable to the Hawkeyes — especially with injuries this year. To Libby, Donar is the GymHawks’ “wonder child,” who sacrifices herself for the good of the program.

With Donar’s college career approaching an end, Libby said, “I think she’s struggling with the idea that this is going to be the last year for her.”

Sophomore teammate Annie Szatkowski said the current group of Hawkeye gymnasts is extremely close, and Donar won’t be forgotten.

“Jenny, she’s always smiling, always has an encouraging word and helps you out a lot — just has a good attitude,” Szatkowski said. “We’ll miss her next year, but it’s been fun with her.”

Donar said she plans to savor her last semester as an Iowa gymnast.

Her favorite memory so far?

When she scored a 9.90 for first place on vault after being thrown into the lineup in the last minute during a meet in Anchorage, Alaska, her freshman season.

“It was one of the greatest things ever,” Donar said. “The whole team came running over. They pretty much tackled me. It was just really exciting to have that moment, especially in an event where I wasn’t even expecting on competing.”


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