“What do gymnasts do, just flip around?”
This is a common question people ask senior gymnast Kendall McCann.
And her answer?
“Yep. It’s pretty cool.”
McCann has been doing flips and handsprings since age four. When it comes to gymnastics, there isn’t much she hasn’t done.
Last year alone, McCann participated in the all-around a total of six times. She was the recipient of her team’s Most Contributions Award and received All-Mountain Pacific Sports Federation honors on uneven parallel bars, beam and all-around.
After her team beat Sacramento State for the first time since 2003, McCann sat down with Aggie sports writer Grace Sprague to talk about everything from her very first meet to her favorite move.
How long have you been a gymnast?
I started when I was four with recreational classes. The coaches find out if you have talent at a young age based on body type and strength. If you’re meant to be a gymnast, they’ll run some tests and put you through the accelerated program that I did.
When were you at your best in terms of gymnastics?
I peaked when I was twelve. I was trying to go elite, which is how you compete internationally. I was training for elite international and I hurt my back. I almost quit because of my back injury. I had to slow down and take it down a notch.
Do you remember your first meet?
Yes [laughing]. I was eight years old and my parents brought me to the gym. I remember being really nervous. My dad braided my hair because he was better than my mom was at it. When you’re French braiding you have to hold all three strands of hair at once, and he’d have me hold them. So when I was holding them as tight as I could, he’d say, “give me the left one, give me the right one …”
What about gymnastics makes it a lifestyle?
When I was younger, gymnastics was my entire life. I hardly saw my friends. Gymnastics came before school and before everything else. I was home-schooled my freshman year of high school because I had eight hours of training per day and my coach wanted me to fully commit. I trained in the morning, home-schooled some classes, went to high school for two classes, then came back and worked out from 3 to 8 p.m. In gymnastics we have to be so precise, so it requires a lot of time. If you’re a gymnast, that’s all you know. It’s really hard to have a life outside of gymnastics.
With gymnastics taking so much of your time, did you play any other sports as a kid?
If I had one regret about gymnastics, it’d be that I didn’t get to play many other sports. I played soccer and liked it as much as I liked gymnastics, but when my training hours increased for gymnastics, I was forced to choose just one. Gymnastics is more fun. It’s not just an adrenaline rush from competition. I like competing, but my favorite part is learning new skills because it’s risky. It’s a really big rush.
What’s your favorite sport to play or watch?
Aerial skiing is amazing to me. When they go so high in the air – it’s humanly impossible to do that. That’s kind of a crazy sport. I can kind of relate to it, too. But my favorite sports are snowboarding and wakeboarding.
You seem to like sports with a lot of risk. Why is that?
[Laughing] I definitely like the rush. Most gymnasts have fear, and I never had that.
What is your coolest move?
A back handspring full twist on beam. A back handspring is when you jump backwards and put your hands on the beam. But this one is a back tuck and a full twist and then you land back on the beam. Most people just do a flip. But with the full twist it makes it so much easier to miss the beam on your landing. When I was younger, I would learn a new skill every day. My coaches joke now, “Kendall, what skill haven’t you done?”
Do you plan to pursue gymnastics after college?
The thing about gymnastics is that about 0.1 percent of gymnasts continue after college. When you get older, you are prone to injuries and your body doesn’t heal as fast. So after this season it’ll definitely be time to retire. I missed my time 10 years ago. At some point you have to realize that there’s more to life outside of gymnastics.
In that case, what do you want out of your senior season?
I want to end the season with no regrets. It’s my last year of gymnastics and I’ve never experienced life without it. I want to have a good season and I want to have fun with it. I also want to go to meets and show people that [UC] Davis is a good team and that they need to worry about us. We can do that easily as long as we keep dong what we’ve been doing. I want to go out there and do what I’ve been training for all year and all my life.
GRACE SPRAGUE can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.