US National gymnast shares high school successes

Gymnastics is a complex sport involving strength, flexibility and grace. When combined with the manipulation of ropes, clubs, balls, hoops and ribbon, it becomes rhythmic gymnastics––a sport where individuals or teams of up to five perform intricate routines.

Lisa Wang ’07 has won numerous titles on the US National Team for rhythmic gymnastics. She began rhythmic gymnastics training in 1998 when she was 10 years old and said she immediately fell in love with it. She competed for the US National Team for 8 years starting in 2000 at the age of 12, and reigned as 3-time US National Champion (2006-2008), Pan American Champion (2008), and 3-time World Championships US Team member.

“You’re only on the mat for 6 minutes, but hundreds of hours of practice go behind those minutes,” Wang said.

Unlike other national-level athletes who were homeschooled, Wang took several AP classes at Stevenson. She also had practice for up to seven hours per day in order to qualify for the Olympics. However, Wang did not let her gymnastics career hinder her success in school.

“She approached school with the same optimization and energy that she approached her sport,” English teacher Steven Heller said.

Heller said that despite Wang’s involvement in her Olympic-caliber sport, her organization was unprecedented. Although Wang would miss weeks at a time traveling abroad for gymnastics competitions, she managed to achieve high grades and graduate with honors.

“I always had respect for the fact that she was pro-active, forward thinking and tried not put one at the expense of the other,” Heller said.

Despite the time she spent at practice and away at competitions, Wang was always attentive in class, Heller said. She never fell asleep in class or fell far behind in homework after weeks away from school.

“My memory of her work was that it was always on target; it never seemed like she was playing catch-up,” Heller said.

Counselor Timothy Roznowsky said that Wang was very good with staying in touch with teachers while she was gone. Wang also attended various club meetings and took part in school activities when she had free time  between school and competing nationally.

“It was a difficult challenge balancing school and gymnastics during high school,” Wang said. “I had a lot more freedom after college.”

Wang’s career took a turn in 2007. During the 2007 World Championships––which were the 2008 Olympic Qualifiers––she was the most favored American Rhythmic Gymnast for the Olympics. However, she placed 28th and missed Olympic qualification by less than a point.

“The latter half of my career was focused on making the Olympics,” Wang said. “The choice came down to choosing between pursuing another four year Olympic cycle or retiring to attend Yale, my dream college.”

In 2008, after missing the Olympics, Wang continued to compete in smaller international competitions. Wang went from barely making the national team to becoming a national champion.

“I believe the true vision of a champion, is someone who is dripping in sweat, at the edge of exhaustion, and continues to train when there is absolutely no one watching,” Wang said. “I worked for myself, not for other people, and that made all the difference.”

Heller said there is a worry that high school students are burning themselves out, because of the notion that they have to be at a certain level in terms of athletics and academics to be considered competitive. This concern is only fueled by international comparisons.

“To say that all of us should do what Lisa did might be a bit of a slippery slope,” said Heller.

Roznowski said that students should find their individual balance between the difficulty of their school work and their activities. Then, they can look at examples like Wang and admire them for who they are.

“When we use our time purposefully without burning ourselves out, there are untapped levels of achievement we can attain,” Heller said.