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A Maryland gymnast's five year journey from the trainer's table to a conference title

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Maryland gymnastics senior Karen Tang writes a guest column for Testudo Times and her time in College Park.

Maryland athletics

If you look at my family, we are the definition of the traditional Chinese-American family. Both my parents are immigrants from China and came to the United States to fulfill their "American Dream."

My parents both come from big families in the Chinese countryside, and it was a huge risk for them to leave and come to the United States. At the time, they knew no English, had nowhere to stay and had barely enough money to live. The odds were against them from the beginning, but they managed to make a living while raising four children.

They're the best parents I could ask for but their parenting styles vary from normal American families.

My mother is what you call a "tiger mom." She's strict and expects the best, and has encouraged me and my siblings to set high goals for ourselves. She taught me how to be strong and independent at a very young age.

My father has worked nonstop since moving to the U.S. He owns and runs a Chinese restaurant called Hong Kong Express back in my hometown of Agawam, Mass. Up until a few years ago he worked for 10 hours every day, and I would often only see him before I went to bed.

His dedication to his restaurant was his way of showing his love for me and my siblings. By him working, he was able to support and pay for gymnastics. All four of us -- my sister, Kathy, my two brothers, Kameron and Kevin, and I -- compete in gymnastics. As much as my dad would love to work less, he's kept the business running for over 20 years to support the sport we're passionate about.

Growing up, Kathy and I always did everything together. We're only two years apart grade-wise. So we would drive to school together, come home together, go to practice together and then repeat the same process the next day.

When Kathy and I had competitions, there were multiple times where neither of our parents could attend. My dad was always working, so he never came. My mom tried her best, but between four children and having a full-time job on her plate, she had to pick and choose which competitions she could attend. We were lucky enough to have another teammate who was the same level and same age. Her mom would offer to bring us to meets and let us stay with them in the hotel.

To my parents, it was a blessing when I received a full athletic scholarship to the University of Maryland for gymnastics. I would be able to continue my education at a well-respected college while also competing in the sport I loved.

The injury

It wasn't an easy transition going into college. In November 2010, I dislocated my knee during a practice. I went to several doctors and they all told me I had to get surgery. I was devastated; I came into college with high hopes I'd become a big contributor and I found out right before the season that I had to sit out my freshman year. I had my first surgery December 2010 but since my mom wasn't there with me, and I was under the knife, the surgeons didn't have permission to proceed with the surgery when they found other problem areas. The surgeons realized that my injury was bigger than they had thought. So in January 2011 I had to get another surgery so they could repair everything in my knee.

My recovery process was a difficult time. I had to be on crutches for four months during the winter months. Crutching in the cold and sometimes snow around campus can be dangerous. It would take me twice as long to get anywhere.

In treatment it seemed like every time I was rehabbing my knee, I got frustrated. Things that I'd never had to think twice about were suddenly the hardest to do. For instance, a few days after my surgery, my trainer at the time wanted me to do leg raises. I used all my strength and energy, but my leg wouldn't move.

Gymnastics became a struggle because it was my outlet and it felt like my chances of bonding with the team were stripped from me. It was hard to be in the gym watching my teammates practice or compete while I was sitting on the sidelines. I recall one competition when another gymnast on a different team had the same floor music as I did. Hearing my music being used for someone else really got to me and I broke down. I wasn't able to stay in the arena. I had to isolate myself and get myself composed before heading back into the arena. People kept telling me how great my season was but I couldn't understand what they were talking about, for me it took all my efforts to try and put a smile on my face and pretend everything was okay.

It was hard to talk to my parents about how upset I was because they aren't used to using words to show sympathy. In their Chinese culture, expressing emotions and feelings weren't something that came naturally. They tried to comfort me by telling me to busy myself and focus on my academics (typical Asian parents).

It took the whole summer that year for me to start becoming myself again. I slowly began to appreciate all the little steps in my recovery process. Every small accomplishment brought me closer to getting back to gymnastics. I found happiness when I got my brace off, when I could start running and when I could start doing gymnastics again.

Back to competition

The uneven bar was the first event I was allowed to do. There was minimal stress on my knees so I could do almost anything except land. My sophomore year, I spent all of my time on bars because it was the only thing I could do. Bars was not my strongest or favorite event but I was so thrilled to do gymnastics again that I would spend all of practice on bars. I worked so hard to get my skills back and perfect them. All my efforts seemed to pay off because I've been anchor on bars every year since my injury.

Although my recovery wasn't a walk in the park, I believe that my injury was a blessing in disguise. Because of my injury I was offered a fifth year of eligibility, which gave me the opportunity to be on the team another year.

Two people took me under their wings during my weakest point my teammates Kesley Cofsky and Ally Krikorian. Both were a year older and were captains. They were big contributors to the team and throughout the years they have become my roommates, best friends and role models. They made me into the friend, gymnast and person I am today. They motivate and challenge me to be the best all-around person I can be. I am truly grateful for their relationship.

When I was healthy enough to compete, it wasn't a shock when my dad was unable to come to any of my gymnastics meets for the first three years of college. My mom came to a couple meets when I was competing, but she wasn't in any way, shape or form a "gym mom."

But nowadays since Kathy and I are both in college my mom has made more of an effort to watch my brothers compete. I think since she doesn't have to worry about Kathy and me, she has more time to spend with the others. Kameron, 18, and Kevin, 15, are also both talented gymnasts. We all went to Tim Daggett's Gold Medal Gymnastics in Agawam, Mass.

My sister, a title, and a big surprise

At first, Kathy and I were in agreement that we did not want to go to the same college. We had already spent our whole lives together and we wanted to be our own individuals and find our true selves. But that didn't stop my mom from encouraging her to look at Maryland. When she came on her unofficial visit, I think we both realized that we missed each other, although we would never say it to each other. We talked later about her visit and she agreed that she liked it. Soon after, I couldn't see her at any school other than Maryland.

It's been three years since Kathy committed to Maryland and become my teammate and I couldn't be happier. We've become closer as sisters since she's been here. We are there for each other during our lowest and highest points in our life. We can call each other late at night when things are bothering us and tell each other all our secrets. Our relationship has grown so much that we are moving into an apartment together in August. The idea of living together would have never even crossed our minds before but now I wouldn't want to be anywhere else for her senior year.

And I think it was because Kathy and I went to Maryland together that I got the surprise of my life.

I remember the day so vividly. It was my senior year and I was in the lineup on more events. Our team travelled to New Hampshire to compete against the UNH gymnastics team. It was a Saturday -- a day my father does not have off from work. The teams had just finished warming up and we were getting ready to march out. We walked out in a single-file line as our names were announced. When my name was called I heard a familiar voice. I looked into the crowd and saw my dad waving from the stands. It was unreal; my dad hadn't seen me compete in 10 years! And now he was here watching me do the sport I love; I was filled with joy!

I was in the lineup for three events that day -- vault, bars and floor. I will never forget those routines because it was at that meet that I set two personal records, earning 9.9s on vault and floor. The Maryland fans went crazy! They went up to my dad and told him he had to come to every meet from now on because he was my good luck charm.

Although it's unrealistic for my dad to attend every meet, I think our fans were right to say he was my good luck charm. Since then, he's come to a handful of meets and he's proven his luck every time. At senior night last year, I set a career high in all-around. At the EAGL Championships last season, I became the conference champion on bars. And most recently, at our second home meet this season, I ended up tying the school record score on bars (9.925). These are the moments I'll never forget.

Looking back, I'm not upset that my dad couldn't make it to my competitions because it makes me appreciate the times he can attend. I know my dad is my No. 1 fan and I'm so thankful when he gets the chance to see me compete. He is able to see how all the hard work he's done for me has paid off. Without him, I wouldn't be at Maryland, doing the sport I love. He gave me the opportunity to do something more with my life, so every time he's at a meet, I compete for him.