I used to really scare my babysitters.
When I was about 12 months old, I’d begin to climb out of my baby barriers or scale door frames. You couldn’t put me anywhere without me trying to scramble my way out of it.
My unique talent initiated a new nickname from my mother:
Well, after years of watching her Monkey Boy jungle gym around the house, my mother pushed me to a sport that would change the course of my life.
Gymnastics has been a part of me now since my mother ushered me into that first class when I was just four years old. Gymnastics has taken me around the world, to a fantastic college, and hopefully soon to the Olympics.
However, after what can only be described as unfortunate circumstances, that dream of Olympic rings is a little further away than I thought.
Through it all, though, my mentality has never changed. No matter the situation, no matter the obstacles, I need to do what my one-year-old self would do – just keep climbing.
The thing that has always kept me going in my sport is the ability to get better.
Even when I first started, I was motivated by the older guys in my classes doing harder events. I wanted to do what they were doing. I wanted to be that good. And the best part about it?! Well, I absolutely loved the hunt to the next level. It was so much fun!
That love for growth and competition pushed me towards the college route. I had a pretty solid junior season in high school and attracted the interest of a few high-caliber schools.
However, nothing could beat Penn State for me.
Aside from its sports & gymnastics programs, they had a world-class electrical engineering program I wanted to be a part of so badly.
The icing on the cake was how close campus was to my home in Massachusetts. It was literally perfect.
Over the years, I can doubtlessly say that college competition made me a harder-nosed athlete. I won’t lie, the first few weeks at Penn State knocked me on my butt. I wasn’t used to the routine.
The early mornings, two practices a day, soreness and aches that would last for weeks… I really struggled at first.
But it made me stronger. I soon wanted to prove myself to the team, so I made sure I turned these obstacles into opportunities and put in the work.
Fast-forward to my senior year now, and I’ve had some of the best experiences of my life here at Penn State. A conference championship, two national pommel horse titles as an individual, and a top-notch education. Going into my final semester of my senior season, I already had a lifetime of memories.
However, there was still one big goal on my list. A giant unchecked box that I felt I had a good chance of filling in.
Tokyo. The Olympics. And I had my opportunity.
But COVID-19 turned this opportunity into an almost impossible situation.
It all happened just a few weeks ago. I was in Baku, Azerbaijan, competing for the USA in a World Cup Event. This was the biggest and best opportunity to qualify for the Olympics in 2020.
Of course, there was a dark cloud hanging over the event even before we left. Azerbaijan had a fairly prominent amount of COVID-19 cases, and traveling there would put us at a pretty high risk.
It was a tough decision to make even while we were still in the U.S., but I knew that this was my greatest chance to qualify. And at the end, I never wanted to ask myself the infamous “what if” type of questions. So, I gave this a shot.
Now in Baku, the day of my qualifier, I’m woken up at five in the morning. Apparently, the COVID-19 pandemic is spreading through the U.S. If we don’t leave Baku now, we may not get back into the U.S.
Shock. Awe. Confusion. Disappointment. Call it whatever you like.
In that particular moment, I couldn’t really get a grasp on my own thoughts.
As understanding as the decision was, I also saw my dream of the Olympics vanish right before me.
I flew halfway around the world only to get sent home without competing.
And on my way back to the U.S., things would get worse. After we got off our first flight, I found out that the NCAA had canceled the rest of the season.
My collegiate career was over. Just like that.
Fortunately, I was blessed with a fairly positive mentality, and I tried to see the bright side of things. Although it was tough at the time, and still is, I came to accept the situation. After all, I know that my gymnastics career continues either way.
But honestly, I just felt really sorry for my teammates and hundreds of other seniors that lost their last events.
Just scrolling through Instagram, looking at those sorrowful posts about seasons getting cut short- my heart goes out to them.
The worst part of the fallout from Baku was finding out they wouldn’t reschedule the event.
Not having that chance now is a huge blow, but hope is not gone.
Depending on how Team USA fairs in some upcoming events, I might still get a shot at Tokyo in 2021. The window is definitely smaller, but any possibility thrown my way will keep my hopes up.
In the meantime, as the world waits to get back to normalcy, I continue to train at home, and prepare myself for grad school. I fell in love with electrical engineering and can’t wait to continue down this path.
So, regardless of what happens in the world of gymnastics, I’m incredibly grateful for having this great education from Penn State.
At the end of the day, it all goes back to my Monkey Boy days. Even in the most extreme and unfortunate scenarios, you just have to keep climbing.
It’s what I’ve been doing for literally my entire life.