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Mexico native Balboa brings unique background to GymHawks

BY RYAN PROBASCO | FEBRUARY 21, 2013 5:00 AM

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Gymnastics are not very popular in Monterrey, Mexico — the hometown of Iowa’s Javier Balboa. That alone, however, wasn’t enough to keep Balboa off the mat. His love for the sport, his teammates and coaches say, is evident every single day.

“I’ve learned to love gymnastics more just by knowing Javy,” senior teammate Brody Shemansky said. “He truly enjoys gymnastics a lot. From him, I’ve been able to take away a sense of focus and love for the sport.”

At a young age, Balboa spent many days in the gym. His family, the senior said, is the main reason gymnastics became such a big part of his life.

“Both of my sisters were already doing gymnastics when I was really young,” Balboa said. “The coaches finally convinced me to go to one of the practices, and I’ve been doing it ever since.”

Balboa decided to continue his gymnastics career after graduating high school. He attended Instituto Technologico y de Estudios Superiores for one year in his hometown of Monterrey. While there, he participated in the Winter Cup Challenge in Las Vegas. At the event, Iowa coaches noticed Balboa’s talents and decided to recruit him.

Despite Balboa’s unlikely journey to Iowa gymnastics, the sport itself is well-known for its international appeal. On the Iowa squad alone, there are four different countries represented. Iowa head coach JD Reive enjoys bringing in diverse backgrounds, like Balboa’s, and believes they can be invaluable to his squad.

“Gymnastics is the international language of movement,” Reive said. “One of the things that I really enjoy about our sport is that it attracts and encourages an international approach. I think it makes our team much deeper than if it were just a local sport. My opinion has always been: the more diverse culturally we are, the better off these kids are.”

With so many different experiences and upbringings on the squad, Balboa and his Hawkeye teammates are all able to bring unique perspectives and techniques to the team.

“It adds a really nice element to the team since we all come from different backgrounds,” Shemansky said. “It really helps the team bond because we’ve all got different gymnastics upbringings. It makes us a stronger and more unified team.”

In addition to the unique cultural perspectives that Balboa has contributed to the Iowa squad in his three seasons as a Hawkeye, the senior has flourished on the mat as well. Currently, Balboa’s average score of 83.883 in the all-around is ranked fifth nationally by GymInfo. The senior is also ranked seventh in the parallel bars with an average score of 15.067.

Last week in the Hawkeyes’ meet against defending national champion Illinois, Balboa won the parallel bars and the all-around events for the second-consecutive week.

Balboa was unsure, at first, if Iowa was the right choice for him. Adjusting to the weather and the language weren’t the easiest of transitions for the gymnast. Being this far away from home was a challenge as well.

It took some time, but Balboa eventually saw that his upbringing and style was thought of as a benefit rather than a setback. He’s felt at home ever since.

“First semester was really tough,” Balboa said. “I wouldn’t say that I had anyone in particular that was a great mentor for me. But I had a lot of friends that helped, and those happened to be my teammates.”


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