Athletes achieve even greater heights

Young competitors defy standard barriers to try to reach beyond their expected limits


Special to the Gazette/JESSE WILLS

Collin Wills decides what his next move will be while surrounded by wilderness.

Growing up revolves around many pleasures and exciting adventures – getting your own car, becoming more independent, being able to apply for jobs, and overall, learning how to successfully transition into adulthood.

However, the privileges to freedom also means more responsibilities and burdens from not only your own but other people’s expectations.

At Granite Bay High School, it’s not rare for students to come to this conclusion early on in their lifetime, especially for athletes who surpass the average performance level.

Meghan Gul, a junior, has made it onto the national team representing the United States for acrobatics gymnastics. In order to achieve such heights, she and her team had to come out best of the best at multiple events, ranging from local to nationals. They also were judged by the consistency of their high-ranking scores.

“There’s a lot of pressure not only from our coach but (United States of America Gymnastics), which is the head of the USA team,” Gul said. “If we don’t do well in certain competitions, we have a chance of losing our spot. I want to cry every single time before we go out on the dance floor because I’m overwhelmed and worried if I mess up. Through the middle of routine, I just get in and perform. When I’m done, it’s a huge pressure relief.”

The road to success as an athlete isn’t easy. There are a lot of components happening behind the scenes that not many people notice. No matter how high the expectations are or how much work has been done, an athlete’s mental mindset is what determines the make or break during competition season.

I was feeling amazing, so I went into nationals thinking it would be hard… I made finals and just got crushed at finals.

— Colin Wills

Colin Wills, a senior, is considered as close to a prodigy as anyone can get at rock climbing. But, even at a professional level, perfectionism isn’t always served on a silver platter.

“I came off of a win at Pan-American championships which got me psyched – I was feeling amazing, so I went into nationals thinking it would be hard but I’ve done better at bigger competitions,” Wills said. “I made finals and just got crushed at finals. Mentality is huge. Everyone in finals in a given competition can win depending on the day, depending on what the routes are. It’s just being on it for that round.”

Failures can be huge motivational setbacks for athletes, especially for those who already opened doors to opportunities that could fulfill their dreams and aspirations for the future. So many would wonder, why continue with the pain? Why keep struggling when the reward isn’t consistently satiable?

“We competed in another national meet in Vegas, and we ended up in sixth place because my teammate messed up on her tumbling,” Gul said. “So, I didn’t talk to her the entire time because I was super frustrated and hurt by that because we had a chance of winning. I cried and it was super painful for me. I performed with the best of my ability, and it wasn’t fair to see that someone else ruined it.”

However, after reminiscing through the story, she shrugged a shoulder and her face lit up again. As one of the prominent members of the national team, her focus has shifted to bigger and better things.

“We competed in the Calgary International Cup … and ended up getting second place,” Gul said. “It really showed us our ranking internationally as well … coming into the second season and seeing that our scores are pretty close to Great Britain, who’s really really good in the past.”

(Rowing is) definitely one of the hardest sports I’ve ever done, but the hardest thing is the most rewarding, and I’m so grateful.

— Jessica Varakuta

The mark of success and form of  reward  to an athlete can come in all different shapes and sizes – the triumph from a trophy, the recognition from a certificate, the smile from a podium. But, the majority can agree it’s the meaning and story behind each reward that fuels their motivation to keep going.

“(Rowing is) definitely one of the hardest sports I’ve ever done,” said senior Jessica Varakuta, who trains as part of the Capital Crew rowing program. “But the hardest thing is the most rewarding, and I’m so grateful. I was offered official visits by many schools – all of the Ivy Leagues except for Harvard.”

Varakuta has been rowing for barely under two years and despite her seemingly lack of time with the sport, her accomplishments and passion for it says otherwise.

“I love rowing. It’s definitely enjoyable for me. Just exercising in general relieves my stress and rowing especially because I am in nature, surrounded by beautiful scenery and animals. This sport has definitely taught me resilience, persistence and discipline.”