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Sustaining enthusiasm

Eleana Zhuang’s journey from gymnast to coach
RITUAL FIRST BUMP Eleana Zhuang ‘25 and her coach, Eileen Spicher, at the Splitz Mock Meet in 2021, doing their final pre-routine fist bump tradition for good luck. “The fist bump before every routine became my source of comfort,” said Zhuang. “It’s because it never changed and it always calmed my nerves down right before”
RITUAL FIRST BUMP Eleana Zhuang ‘25 and her coach, Eileen Spicher, at the Splitz Mock Meet in 2021, doing their final pre-routine fist bump tradition for good luck. “The fist bump before every routine became my source of comfort,” said Zhuang. “It’s because it never changed and it always calmed my nerves down right before”

Competing as a gymnast was a significant part of Eleana Zhuang ’25’s life for a decade. But after determining the sport was harming her mental well being, Zhuang wanted to ensure the next generation of gymnasts wouldn’t go through the same experience she did.

“I started gymnastics when I was 4-years-old,” said Zhuang. “It was because I saw my sister, who did gymnastics before me, and so I would go to the gym and I would see her jumping on the trampoline and doing all the gymnastics stuff and I wanted to be her. So I wanted to join too.”

Following in her big sister’s footsteps, Zhuang became very invested in gymnastics and would spend numerous hours a day working hard and training at her gym; which would then translate to her second home.

“The gym I was at, Splitz, was really small.” Said Zhuang. “Since we were so small, it made the team super close and then it made my relationship with the coaches super close, and so  the coaches that I’ve had since I was 10 years old, I still talk to now.”

Zhuang became very comfortable in her gym environment and was able to excel. Especially on bars where she would not only be beneficial to herself but to others as well.

“We have been on the same team since we were in 2nd grade,” said Sabine Zebib ‘25. “She always knew what was going on, whenever someone would ask her a question, she would always be able to answer it. Especially on bars she would step up a lot, because that was her event and she was really good at it. She was a leader specifically for that event because she excelled in it so she would be able to help me and our other teammates learn.”

Zhuang’s influence on her teammates in the gym was so substantial and present, that even people who didn’t know her very well were aware of her gymnastics abilities.

“I kind of knew Eleana before she came to Greenhills,” said Anjali Brahmassandra ‘25. “I just knew that she was really good at gymnastics, because of social media and she and Sabine were on a team together and I was friends with Sabine.”

Although Zhuang had spent a majority of her life in the gym, the sport itself is very time consuming and can be very tough both mentally and physically. 

“I quit freshman year, a big part of the reason was the sport itself just kept doing me more harm, then it did good mentally,” said Zhuang. “It’s a very mental sport, it’s not just based on talent, if you have the talent you need the mentality to do it. So as I got older, I just fell out of that mentality. I just hated the sport itself. I just couldn’t do it mentally, also by freshman year, people do so many more clubs and extracurriculars and I kind of felt left out, because I would be at gymnastics every single day after school until 8 pm.”

For Zhuang, leaving the sport behind was something necessary for her mental well-being, but in doing so she would have to leave behind both her team and her gym.

“I really loved my team,” said Zhuang. “I was with them for so long that they were actually all my best friends and I knew everything about them. So when I quit, that was actually the hardest part about me leaving, is all the people.”

Zhuang realized that she wasn’t ready to say goodbye to the sport of gymnastics. Just because she fell out of love with doing gymnastics, doesn’t mean she had total disregard for the sport itself.

“I decided to work at Splitz because I have so much knowledge of gymnastics and I felt like it was all a waste if I didn’t use it,” said Zhuang. “I also love coaching, I love telling people what to do. Mainly because I know it and I want to help people. Just because I fell out of love with it doesn’t mean the people that I coach have to fall out of love with it. So everything I didn’t like about my gymnastics experience, I want to change it for the people I coach, so they don’t go through the same thing as me.”

Zhuang makes sure that when she coaches, she does everything she can to make sure her athletes don’t experience the same things she did. But her experience wasn’t all bad, as she also learned important lessons that have stuck with her for her whole lifetime. 

“My coaches were really good at teaching me life lessons and stuff like that.” Said Zhuang. “So now, as a coach, everything that I do, I hope the kids learn from me, in the same way that I did from my coaches. I had this coach, her name was Coach Patty, and she was tough. You would go to the other side and you would be terrified of her. But as much as I was terrified of her, she genuinely became such an important part of my life. Then, this past year she retired, and I was at her retirement party, and I saw all the gymnasts I used to do gymnastics with, and she was genuinely so loved by the end. But she always just comes to mind when I’m coaching.”

As much as Zhuang enjoys being a coach and bestowing her insightful gymnastics knowledge onto the her adorable toddler kids and the team girls, she will always miss and cherish the experience of being a gymnast,

“I get sad when I see them on bars, because bars was the only event that I liked, but I couldn’t keep doing the sport just for that one event. But I do still miss bars a lot, so whenever I see all the gymnasts who were younger than me on bars doing the skills that I used to do, I’m just like, oh my God they’ve grown so much and it’s been so long. That’s just like crazy, and every single time I just miss it so much.”

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