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GymHawks, bred in Iowa

BY ROBBIE LEHMAN | FEBRUARY 11, 2010 7:30 AM

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Being a Hawkeye means something extra special for three Iowa gymnasts.

Junior Andrea Hurlburt and sophomores Jessa Hansen and Heather Fomon are the only native Iowans among the 18 members of the Iowa women’s gymnastics team, which provides the trio a sense of pride unmatched by their out-of-state teammates.

“I’ve always been a Hawkeye fan growing up,” Hansen said. “It’s an honor to represent your home state and the University of Iowa.”

All three grew up cheering for Iowa, and because they were lifelong fans, attending college in Iowa City came as easy decisions.

A native of Clive, Hansen performed at Chow’s Gymnastics in West Des Moines, run by the famous trainer Liang Chow, who was an assistant coach at Iowa in the 1990s.

Hurlburt hails from Waterloo and trained at the Blackhawk Gymnastics club, and Fomon is a product of Iowa City West and the Iowa Gym-Nest in Coralville.

The three GymHawks have fond memories of competing against one another during club meets.

Yet, with no high-school gymnastics programs in the state, Hurlburt, Hansen, and Fomon are the only native Iowans head coach Larissa Libby has had in her six years at the helm of the Hawkeye program.

“Everybody wants to see a kid in the program as large as the University of Iowa,” Libby said. “We haven’t been able to give them that for a long time. It’s exciting for us to be able to say, ‘Yes, we do have Iowa kids, and the state is producing great gymnasts.’ ”

Among the many benefits of being from Iowa, staying close to family and friends is the most prominent — especially because relatives don’t have to travel far to watch Iowa’s home meets.

“It’s nice to know that they’re here, not just for the meets, but in general,” Hurlburt said. “If we have a weekend off, I can go home and see them. A lot of my teammates really miss their parents a lot. I don’t have as much of the homesickness or problems that way.”

The three gymnasts may have a special bond, but they don’t talk about their Iowa ties too much around other teammates, whose home states range from Nevada to New York.

Still, Fomon’s house is a common place for team meals and get-togethers. However, the walk-on often gets teased by her teammates for not knowing downtown Iowa City perfectly, even though she grew up primarily in Coralville.

She shares a soft spot for the little girls who come to meets. After Iowa’s win over Ohio State in last weekend’s “Pink Meet,” the GymHawks invited the children in attendance to dance to the “Cha-Cha Slide” on the mat.

“I love when they come out and support us,” Fomon said. “I know what they feel. I know they look up to us.”

Libby said she couldn’t be prouder of how her first three local gymnasts have panned out.

“They’re just three great, quality kids,” the coach said. “They’re very different, but they’re very passionate about Iowa gymnastics. That’s what we like.”


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