GymHawks boast Canadian connection


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The symbolic Maple Leaf has an entirely different meaning for several members of the Iowa women’s gymnastics team.

Head coach Larissa Libby, assistant coach Jenifer Simbhudas, and GymHawks Rebecca Simbhudas and Kaitlynn Urano are all Canadians, and they feel a special connection as Hawkeyes because of their national ties to the Great White North — especially this year.

“Especially with the Olympics going on right now. It’s one of those things that every Canadian knows who every other Canadian is, and we have such little success to be excited about,” Libby said. “Only Kaitlynn, Becky, and Jen can understand the mourning of a country when they lose a hockey game.”

The gymnasts admit that they come from a hockey-crazy country. With Vancouver hosting the 2010 Winter Olympic games, they all have felt a strong sense of patriotism and pride seeing their countrymen and -women compete for medals.

However, their dejection was palpable Sunday night when the men’s Canadian hockey team lost to Team USA, 5-3.

“I was so angry. I don’t think you have any idea,” said freshman Urano. “I was a little bitter, I’m not going to lie.”

How the foursome wound up together in Iowa City is a story that goes back to Libby’s youth training in Pickering, Ontario. By coincidence, the Simbhudas sisters later trained under the same coaches in the same gym.

Jenifer Simbhudas, two years older than sister Rebecca Simbhudas, a junior all-arounder, had just come up as Libby was on her way out of the gym.

The Simbhudas hail from Markham, Ontario, roughly 25 minutes from Libby’s hometown. Libby competed in college at Louisiana State, but she began recruiting Jenifer Simbhudas when she accepted the coaching position at Iowa six years ago. Eventually, Rebecca Simbhudas followed.

“There’s a huge tie with how I have access with Canadians,” Libby said. “I was on the national team, and most of those coaches are still there. It makes it easy, because they’re people I trust. It’s very helpful in identifying kids who can come here and be successful.”

Urano, the biggest hockey fan of the Canadian quartet, said she didn’t even know where Iowa was on a map. But by another coincidence, Urano’s coach trained Libby during the summers when she returned home from LSU.

When watching a Canadian junior nationals meet, Urano caught Libby’s eye. Luckily for Libby, a scholarship slot had recently opened, and she wasted no time in snatching a commitment from the British Columbia native.

“You always have that patriotic bond,” Urano said. “Canada isn’t that much different, but still we have our own culture and diversity.”

Libby, whose husband is American and two daughters have dual citizenship, said she’s targeting 10 to 15 Canadian gymnastics at the moment as possible future GymHawks.

Rebecca Simbhudas knows more Canadians will flourish under Libby, just as she has because of their perpetual link.

“We both have the same background, gymnastics-wise,” she said. “We’re closer that way, because she understands where I’m coming from and how to train me and talk to me. It’s a good relationship between us. It’s comfortable.”

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