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GymHawks watch Simbhudas dance

BY MOLLY IRENE OLMSTEAD | FEBRUARY 24, 2011 7:20 AM

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Women’s gymnastics head coach Larissa Libby came to Iowa from Canada, carrying along a South American Guianese heritage — just as senior Rebecca Simbhudas did.

The two came from the same gym and had the same coaches. They celebrate Caribana, a Caribbean music festival, together each year. Each understands where the other comes from.

This coach-athlete relationship helps Libby understand Simbhudas’ basic needs: gymnastics, music, and fun.

One of four seniors, Simbhudas is soft-spoken and understated, Libby said, but when “her jam” comes on in the gym, Simbhudas breaks out dancing and usually gets her teammates to join her.

As she performs her floor exercise routine, her teammates dance along with her from the sidelines. When she fist-pumps to the Caribbean rhythm, the rest of the GymHawks shout, “Go Hawks” to the beat. Her routine highlights her Caribbean heritage, but its dance focus is a comfort to Simbhudas, who simply looks at the event as a way to express herself and have fun.

“Becky is very much moved by music, tremendously, in all aspects of her life,” Libby said. “She’ll study to music, she’ll ride on the plane to music. That’s what drives her.”

Simbhudas is a natural gymnast, and her gymnastics career has thrived at Iowa. After showing a score of 9.9 on vault against Iowa State on Feb. 18, she is the first of the team’s all-arounders to score 9.9s on all four events this season. She picked up her third-straight all-around win last week.

But while gymnastics is a natural part of her life, Simbhudas struggles to balance her athletics with academics.

“Managing academics and doing really well in gym, those are the two hardest things,” she said. “I try to focus on both at the same time, but I’m not like that. I try to focus on school and do really well, and focus on gymnastics and do really well, but it’s just hard.”

Coming to compete for Iowa was a change of focus for Simbhudas, Libby said. Before, her main focus was gymnastics, but becoming a Hawkeye meant shifting her focus to set academics as a priority. Music, especially any music that reminds her of her Caribbean roots, has helped Simbhudas succeed in the gym and in the classroom.

“I’ve always loved music, and I’ve always loved dancing,” she said. “As the years go by and as I get older and I listen to music, it really kind of cools my mind down a little bit, so I’m not so stressed out about what I’ve got to do for school or gymnastics.”

Since the middle of her sophomore season, Simbhudas has been a reliable all-arounder for the GymHawks. Her consistency in her events helps the rest of the team remain calm in pressure situations.

Not only does Simbhudas’ athletic ability keep the team unified and calm, but the squad also relies on her personality to bring humor into a stressful situation.

“Usually, the atmosphere in the gym is always fun and outgoing, and Becky helps that,” senior Arielle Sucich said. “Everyone is at ease. It’s a tough and stressful sport, but at the same time, we’re performers, so it helps when we can have fun while we’re competing.”

Simbhudas’ quirky personality includes oddities such as wearing different colored knee-high socks to practice and competition. While the other GymHawks lovingly tease her for her eccentricities, Simbhudas lives in the moment and enjoys making her team laugh.

“There’s always that Becky moment that just makes everybody laugh,” Libby said. “That’s what drives her, the fun around her team. That’s her role on the team, to be the one who comes up with the really quirky thing. That’s just Becky.”


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