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Walking toward a dream

BY ROBBIE LEHMAN | FEBRUARY 02, 2010 7:30 AM

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The Iowa women’s gymnastics team has something that may surprise even the most die-hard fans.

Eight of the team’s 18 members are walk-ons. And while they don’t consider themselves separate from the rest of the team, they do differ from their teammates.

Junior Kelly Galau insists that the walk-ons are not treated any differently by anyone in the Iowa program.

“You don’t have as many expectations, so you get the chance to prove yourself because no one’s expecting you to necessarily to contribute. But when you get the chance, it’s that much better,” she said.

Several walk-on GymHawks are getting that chance this season. Even more out of the ordinary is that five of them regularly contribute in head coach Larissa Libby’s lineup — something that doesn’t happen much.

“Overall, the culture of gymnastics is not walk-on based at all,” she said. “It’s very rare that walk-ons contribute.”

The four contributors, along with Galau, are sophomores Melissa Miller and Jordan Eszlinger, as well as Jenny Donar, the team’s lone senior. Sophomore Rachel Corcoran suffered a knee injury in last weekend’s meet that may sideline her for the rest of the season.

The other three non-scholarship gymnasts are Olivia Beatty, Rachel Nash, and Iowa City West High graduate Heather Fomon.

With the Hawkeyes suffering a slew of injuries this season, Libby has had to plug in more walk-ons than she expected. However, the fifth-year head coach said she is extremely pleased with the way the women have performed.

“We couldn’t be more grateful and thankful that these kids have decided to stick it out with us and continued to push themselves every day to the level that everybody else is pushing, and in their case probably even harder to earn and keep their spot here,” she said.

Each GymHawk is fighting for her own chance to compete. Walk-ons aren’t promised a chance, and Miller and the others toil for a starting spot.

“I don’t think about it as that, I just train as hard as I can,” Miller said. “There are not two separate groups. We’re a team. Even though some of us might be walk-ons, some might be on scholarship, we don’t train differently because of it. We train as a team. Everyone pushes as hard as she can, and whoever is the best makes the lineup.”

Money isn’t an issue either, Miller said. None of the walk-on GymHawks spend time thinking about it, she said.

“Sometimes, walk-ons can get scholarships, maybe the third or fourth year,” the sophomore said. “I mean, that’s always in the back of your mind. If you could somehow work hard enough to earn one, that would be nice. But it’s not anywhere near a primary concern. You do it because you can compete and help your team out.”


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