My name is Jenna Squillo and I am a senior on the women’s gymnastics team at UIC. I am from the west Chicago suburb of Clarendon Hills, but UIC is my home away from home.
I have worked my whole athletic career to become a college gymnast. But as every athlete knows, the road to success comes with many detours along the way. While your heart and mind may be in sync, your body might throw you a curveball. The physical challenges I have faced over the years taught me a lot about patience and perseverance. At UIC, I received the support I needed to overcome those challenges. This is just one of the many reasons why being a UIC Flame has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my life. I cannot express enough how grateful I am to be a gymnast here and am always proudly wearing the flames logo wherever I go.
What Makes Us Special
One of my favorite parts of being a UIC gymnast is that when we travel for meets, our coaches understand that it is not just the competition that creates memories. They understand the importance of team bonding and allow us to have unforgettable experiences outside of the gym as well. We have hiked up a waterfall in Oregon, watched a Mardi Gras parade in Louisiana, sled down the snowy mountains in Idaho and Utah, and much more. These unique team experiences have established a bond within our team that is hard to describe.
Realizing that future UIC gymnasts may not have the opportunity to make those types of memories is saddening. As a senior, the decision to cut the gymnastics programs does not affect my future gymnastics career. I will not have to worry about finishing my undergraduate degree without the sport I love. I will not have to worry about the thought of transferring. I will not have to worry about ending my athletic career early. However, this decision does affect me in many other ways.
It Impacts Every Gymnast
You see, my team means everything to me. My teammates are my sisters. Nothing will ever take that away from me. During my years at UIC, I have seen this program grow into a great gymnastics program. Every year, I could tell it was going to be a better year than the last. I want to continue to see this program advance. What many people don't understand is that cutting the two programs also means that there are no alumni meets to attend... no honoring of gymnasts that contributed to the rich history of UIC gymnastics. This is hard to swallow!
What needs to be highlighted, however, is the immediate support from the gymnastics community nationwide. The gymnastics community has gone through a lot the past couple of years and it seems like the support is at its highest level ever. Gymnastics is growing in popularity, but at the same time, NCAA programs are being cut. There are more young gymnasts than ever but less opportunity to continue at the college level. I worked my entire life to achieve my goal of becoming an NCAA gymnast. Sadly, it seems that the opportunities for other aspiring gymnasts to achieve this dream are disappearing at an alarming rate. This trend needs to be reversed.