submitted by Epsilon Magazine on 19.06.2006
Volume 1, Issue 5, Epsilon (Magazine), 31st May, 2006; pages 1, & 34-39
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Volume 1, Issue 1, was launched on April 1, 2006.
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Stephanie Magiros is not used to giving up easily. She might be small and young - she is barely fifteen - but after twelve long years living and breathing gymnastics she has learned that the harder the fall, the quicker you need to get back on your feet, a broad smile plastered all over your face as you bravely march on to your next apparatus. And to be quite frank, her never-give-up attitude couldn't have come handier at a better time. Not for her sake, that is, but for mine.
Thing is, we have just finished our interview, when to my horror I realise that my trusty old recorder has given up on me, capturing for prosperity only the first minutes of our almost hour-long conversation.
"No need to panic" she offers, as thick drops of sweat start running down my face, warm as baby tears. "You'll just have to do it again, won't we"? Problem is, can you trust the damn recorder? Again, Stephanie has the solution. Within a matter of minutes, she has come with a more viable solution than my old companion. She sets up her computer as a make shift recorder and we off we go, to (re) capture the essence of the pocket sized dynamo that is Stephanie Magiros.
In the hour that follows we talk about her gold and bronze medal performances during this year's recent National Gymnastics Championships, the sacrifices she had to make to reach the dizzy heights of success, her dreams and aspirations, occasionally posing to discuss the nature of the sport and the effect it can have on a young girl's life.
And if you think success has gone to her head, then think again. Bright and articulate, she answers my questions with the bravado of someone that knows how much ground they have covered in the long and often thorny road to glory, but somehow manages to exude the humbleness of a novice, her feet firmly stuck to the ground. And rather than having a good old whine about the small pleasures of life denied to her by her chosen path, Stephanie takes it all in her stride, showing a maturity not usually associated with her age.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the world of one very determined young lady.
Tell me a little bit more about the competition you recently excelled in.
It was a national championship where I had the chance to represent my state. NSW made history books by winning levels seven to nine in team events. I was a part of the level eight team. In these types of competition an athlete competes in four different apparatus: floor, vault, beams and bar. During the competition every team is made up of six girls. Out of the six girls, the four best results count towards the team's overall score. All my four scores counted for the team total. I suppose if I wasn't part of the NSW team and if I hadn't performed as well as I did, my team probably wouldn't have won the gold. A couple of days later I won bronze in the individual vault competition. What basically happens is that they get your score from the team competition and add it to the individual competition. The competition was held at Homebush Bay at the State Sports Centre. Sydney has held the event for the last three years in a row. Apparently it's supposed to change next year but nothing is certain.
From what your parents have been telling me, during competitions, you have to leave home and stay with the rest of the team.
That’s right. This time we stayed in a hotel at Ryde. What this means is that you don't get to see your family or your school friends for a week. The only people you see are your coaches, your chaperons and your fellow team members. Usually all six girls stay together in a room, which is good for the team morale as we get to know each other better and learn to work as a team. Everyday we have to drive to the venue. You get one day of competition, followed by a day of training and then you go back to compete again. When you are not competing, you usually stay at the venue to see your teammates and cheer them on.
Is the gold medal you have just won the highlight of your career so far?
There have been other success stories. Last year I won the NSW State Championships in level 7, and I had the chance to represent my state in last year's national competition as well.
You talk a lot about levels. How are these measured? By age or ability?
It's all down to the individual's ability and skills, by what everyone is capable of doing. It's pretty pointless to compete at level eight when I do not have the necessary skills required at that level.
How long have you been doing this?
For about twelve years now. I started gymnastics when I was two and a half years old. Not that I remember anything from that time. But from what my parents were telling me, the reason they enrolled my in gymnastics was simply because I was a jumping jellybean. I was almost teaching myself somersaults on my bed. She thought that if she enrolled me, I would stop jumping around and being so hyperactive at home. Of course, her plan never worked. It actually had the opposite effect. I would come home from the gym and practice everything I had learned on my bed.
Who has been the biggest influence of our career so far?
Apart from m parents, I have to say my coach Bill Parsons. He has been my coach since I walked through the doors of the NSW Academy of Gymnastics as a three year old. He has been with me all the way, and he is more than a coach, he is my mentor and a friend.
At what stage did gymnastics stop being what you parents enrolled you in and become what you wanted to do?
I thing I must have been four or five. I remember I was also doing ballet at the time, which I completely hated. I found it really boring, not something that consumed a lot of my energy. Ballet is all about looking pretty and elegant and I have always been more the jumpy, hyperactive type. I know from then on that gymnastics was more suited to me. As I grew older, I realised that my body wasn't suited for ballet, so I suppose I made the right choice.
I suppose it's fair to presume, that you have never considered trying rhythmic gymnastics?
No. Definitely not. And even if I had, I don't think I would have been able to do it. Again, my body is not suited to that. With rhythmic gymnastics you need to be flexible and tall and skinny, which I am not. And it's too much like ballet, which I still can't stand.
What's an average day in the life of Stephanie Magiros like?
I get up at seven o clock, get to school by eight thirty, come back just after three o'clock in the afternoon. After a quick lunch I get ready for the gym. I have to be there by four and I finish training at eight thirty at night. I have my dinner, then do a bit of homework and go to sleep around eleven - eleven thirty. I suppose I'm lucky to be one of those people that can get by with only five to six hours of sleep. It's the same routine four times a week. I train Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Wednesday is my day off, which gives me the chance to spend some time with my family. On Saturdays I train from ten o'clock in the morning till two in the afternoon and the rest of my weekend is free.
Is that too hard, physically as well as mentally, on a young person like yourself?
I do get tired sometimes, but that depends on what training season we are in, if there is a competition coming up or if we are learning new techniques and skills. I believe that I handle it very well, though. I never think that I don't want to do it anymore or something.
How do you manage to fit your schoolwork into your schedule?
I do my school work when ever I can, which is pretty much during free days, weekends and after the gym when I get home. I've learned not to waste time in order to fit everything in.
What did you have to sacrifice to get to the level you are today?
I don't look at it as being a sacrifice. But I had to miss out on my school life with my friends. Sometimes they might be going out shopping on a Saturday morning and I always have to turn them down and say "Sorry, I can't do this, I have to train". Sometimes they will pressure me telling me "just skip a day, it's only one day, you train all year", but they don't understand that missing a day of training adds up in the end. For example, if I skip training on a Saturday, when I go back on Monday my muscles are sore. Plus one day away from the gym might mean that I will miss out on learning a new skill. When it's competition season I have to sacrifice all the other sports I enjoy. I am not allowed to do things like ice-skating, rollerblading and all the other sports you can injure yourself. I really love water skiing and when I'm in competition season I have to stay away from it in case I have a wipe out and hurt myself. If that happens at the gym, I'd understand. If it happens elsewhere I'd be really disappointed with myself.
What about missing out on social events, like a friend's birthday or yiayia's name day? Does that have a negative effect on you?
Not really. If it's a friend's birthday I just tell them I can't go because I'm training. At first they are upset but then they understand that my life at this stage is dedicated to gymnastics.
What drives you to dedicate so much of your life to gymnastics? Wouldn't it be easier to quit, for example?
I wouldn't quit gymnastics. Apart from my love for the sport, I wouldn't know what to do with myself if I did. I would have twenty spare hours that I would have to fill with something else. Also, I haven't achieved all the goals I have set for myself.
What else would you like to achieve?
I would love to represent Australia at some point. To do that, I first have to reach level 10, and compete at that level at the nationals.
How far away is that dream?
Two years I would say.
What does it take to get to level 10? How many more hours of training do you have to put in?
It's not only the hours. You have to be more consistent with your training and work hard all the time.
What's the major difference between the life you are leading now, and that of a girl your age that represents her country at Olympics level?
Olympians on an average, train between 38 to 46 hours per week. They pretty much don't have a reasonably normal life like I do. They have three hours of school and six hours of gym everyday.
Has it ever crossed your mind to put more hours in and get to that level or are you happy where you are now?
I'm happy with how my gymnastics career is going and how it has been in the past. It's probably a bit late now anyway. You have to make that decision when you are ten or eleven. I have chosen not to go that way, and I am happy with it. I think I have a nice balance: a good gymnastics career, a great family, and some very good friends.
Is it hard being away from your family? How often do you have to do that?
It's good to get away from my two brothers every now and then. I usually go away two to three times a year. I had to go away from home and compete in Queensland, Victoria, and Canberra and recently in Hawaii. I am not normally totally away from my family. My mum always comes with my as a chaperon of the squad and it's good to have her there with me. I don't really miss my school friends or my family because I see them every day. Sometimes it's fun going away and concentrating on a competition with your gymnastic friends. And anyway, there are times that I feel I am closer to the friends I have made in gymnastics. They do the same hours of training as me, they have the same routine, and we know the sacrifices we have to make.
What gives you more pleasure: winning or learning new skills?
You do feel proud when you have learned a new skill, especially when you start putting it into your routine. Then you do your routine at a competition, knowing that if you do well, you will have the chance to win a medal. If that happens, you do feel proud for what you have achieved.
What about when an award doesn't come your way. How do you deal with the disappointment?
I do feel disappointed if something goes wrong in a competition. But that failure makes me go back to the gym and work harder to get it right the second time. When you go to a competition and you fall on your first attempt, you can't just think that everything is over. You have to put that behind you and focus on the next three apparatus and try to finish strong.
Have you considered your life away from gymnastics? What would you like to do once your career is over?
After I retire I might do a bit of diving. I already have some of the skills required, like aerial sense, the motion, all the twisting and somersaulting, and the speed I have learned from gymnastics. A sport like that would be easy for me to learn. I would also love to go into coaching. It would be much easier for me to be a coach than a person off the street. I have been there and done that, I know the sport and I know what it takes to coach and develop good gymnasts, as it was done to me.
What was the hardest competition you had to take part in?
During the competition in Hawaii, a teammate and me had to compete at level ten, three levels higher than what we were at the time. We went up against a girl who had just come fifth in the world championships. We really appreciated the opportunity to compete against someone who was almost at the top.
What is your favorite apparatus?
In competition my favorite is vault and floor. Vault because it is a fast apparatus, whereas bars and beam are much longer and much easier to fall down. If your last apparatus is floor, then you can let go, show off your skills, your routine, you can show off your expressions. But in training I really enjoy beam because you get to practice the skills you've learned on the floor on a piece of wood that's 10cm wide. When you pull it off, it's the best feeling. At the moment my strongest apparatus is vault because it required speed and strength, which are my best skills. Plus I have a good aerial sense and I know where my body is when I am twisting. At the moment I am really struggling with bars. It used to be my best apparatus, but as my body changes I find it difficult. With bars you need more technique and a longer body, and as you can see I am not the tallest person in the world.
Growing up, who were your idols?
I used to look up to a girl called Trudy Macintosh. She used to have a vault named after her. She was the first girl in the world to ever perform that vault and I thought it was really cool to have a vault named after you. I was hoping in the future to learn that vault and be as good as her. I got the chance to meet Trudy during the Sydney Olympics. I was part of the closing ceremony. I was dressed as a teddy bear, doing headstands and cartwheels around the stadium. We were part of the Bananas and Pajamas float. After you did your little bit you could go in the middle and party with all the Olympians. It was there that I met Trudy Macintosh and she signed my costume. I will never throw that teddy bear outfit away.
**The parents' point of view**
How much of your time does Stephanie's career take?
It does take a lot of time driving her to training everyday and then picking her up at night. I do have another two boys and I try to divide my time equally between my children. I don't want the boys to turn around in ten of fifteen years and say "we didn't do this; we couldn't do that because of Stephanie and her gym". Most afternoons I have three drop-offs and three pick ups, because I want to give the boys their opportunities as well. They have their soccer, their baseball, their ten pin bowling.
As a parent of an athlete, do you find that you have to sacrifice a lot of things as well?
I can't say that I miss out on a lot of things, but Stephanie's career does take a lot of my spare time. When you have a child that's so heavily involved into the sport, you usually have to do a lot of other things, like helping out in the fundraising committees. And then you have the other extra things that Stephanie needs like physio appointments and doctor appointments, she might need a massage and of course I have to drive her to all those places.
Shouldn't that be the club's responsibility? Isn't it ironic that the parents’ role is often played down; when in reality without the parents' dedication we would have had the likes of Ian Thorpe for example?
The parents are in the background but they are the ones that actually provide the foundation for the children to have these sporting career. It's not as if she could drive herself to the gym when she was five. The reality is that parents need to be just as dedicated as their children, Sure we do sacrifice a bit. We miss out on holidays, on long weekends etc because Stephanie needs to train.
Teacher, journalist, poet and author, Sydney NSW Australia
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