Sept. 28, 2009
NORMAN, Okla. - “Sooner for Life.” Around here it’s more than just a motto, it’s a way of life. Transcending the competitive aspect, it’s being part of a family, thousands strong, sharing a passion for success at the highest levels both athletically and academically.
The Oklahoma women’s gymnastics team has certainly taken this credence to heart. Through their tireless efforts in the classroom, in competition and in the community, the Sooners have made a championship-level commitment in every facet of life.
While their athletics exploits often make the headlines, the following series will enlighten gymnastics fans on life outside of competition for the OU student-athlete and what better way than a first-hand account from a group that has spent the last four years in Norman. SoonerSports.com sat down with members of last year’s senior class to reflect back on their time at OU.
This week’s installment features Jessica Kinder. Currently pursuing a master's degree with an emphasis in intercollegiate athletics administration, Kinder also serves as graduate assistant for the women's gymnastics squad.
What lessons did you learn from your gymnastics career at Oklahoma that you can incorporate into your everyday life?
“I definitely learned how to achieve what I was passionate for, while going through many struggles. I learned that giving up is not the right answer, and by continuing to work hard, the sky is the limit and I can accomplish whatever I set my mind to. I come across both big and small challenges throughout my daily life and it is easy to think back to my accomplishments through gymnastics to help me overcome obstacles.”
What role did the OU gymnastics staff have on the person you are today?
“The gymnastics staff has had a huge impact on the person I am today. Without this staff, I believe I would have finished my gymnastics career at 19 rather than 23. They have had such a positive influence on my life, there is not enough time to even describe what they have done for me. They have opened up many opportunities for me and I cannot ever thank them enough for all the support they have given me. The coaching staff always has quite a humorous side to them, but behind all of their jokes, they will open their hearts to whoever they can and help them achieve what they desire."
What was your favorite part of being an OU gymnast?
“I have a couple favorites from being an OU gymnast. I would have to say that my first favorite is having a close relationship with all my teammates. I have made lifelong friendships. The second part of being an OU gymnast is representing the University of Oklahoma and being such a role model to young girls. There is nothing like talking with children and seeing their faces light up because they are so excited to talk to you. And lastly, the competition. I will never forget the times in the locker room with my teammates, the talks that KJ would give, and that feeling of stepping out on the floor with everyone screaming your name."
Talk about the role that the OU academic center and staff/coaching staff played in helping you reach your goals academically.
“There was always an immense amount of encouragement from all parts. The academic center provided me the tools I needed to be a successful student while participating in a sport. The coaching staff did what they could to work around my crazy class schedule. I had class during practice times and there were many times the coaches came into the gym to work with me one-on-one. This allowed me to complete the same daily tasks the team was doing, around my class schedule."
Speak a bit about how special last year’s senior class was as a whole – achieving success both academically and bringing home back-to-back Big 12 titles.
“Last year's senior class was a very tight group. We led the team more so through example rather than voice. As a matter of fact, we rarely saw each other at practice because our class schedules were during practice. I think as a group we had more one-on-one training than with the actual team, but it did not seem to have an effect on the squad. It always seemed natural for us to guide the team, it never felt like a struggle. I also feel very privileged to have been in the same class as two future doctors. Bringing home back-to-back Big 12 Titles was icing on the cake for us. I saw Haley (Horton) cry for the first time ever that day. It was definitely the way that we wanted to leave our mark."
Describe the pride you have in seeing the program rise to the level it has since you were a freshman?
“There is great pride seeing the program continuing to rise to new levels, because I feel like I have helped build the foundation that they stand on. I think that is something that all the OU gymnastics alumni share with each other."
How did you spend your summer and what are you up to now?
“I spent part of my summer at home with my family and I spent the other part with K.J., learning how to do things for her in the office. I am currently the graduate assistant for the women's gymnastics team and I am finishing up my master's degree that in intercollegiate athletics administration."
You’re still the longest tenured member of the OU gymnastics squad and have been on campus two years longer than the current staff. Speak a little about that unique arrangement and what OU has provided you through the years.
"This question makes me laugh because all of last year the girls gave me such a hard time about how old I was. 'Jess, you are like 45 now, right?' It was something I heard on a daily basis. I am very proud about my experience with the gymnastics team and couldn't be happier with how things have unfolded. I feel very special to have been able to actually experience first-hand the changes that the program has gone through with the new staff. I would not change it for the world. I love working as their graduate assistant now. I still get to pop my head into practice and stay involved with the team. I am very much looking forward to still traveling with the team and being on the floor during competition. It will be quite a different experience not being the one in a leotard though.