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Harker Aquila

The student news site of The Harker School.

Harker Aquila

The student news site of The Harker School.

Harker Aquila

Apex: Vaulting to victory

Linda Zeng (10) pushes past pain to perform with perfection.
Gymnast Linda Zeng (10) executes a penché during her floor routine. She recently notched second place at the Spirit of the Flame event. (Provided by Linda Zeng)

Time seems to pause as Linda Zeng (10) launches through the air, knees tucked in tight to her chest as she flips once, then braces for impact. At the resounding thud of her landing, the audience erupts into ear-shattering cheers. Struck by a wave of astonishment, Linda’s face  breaks into a delighted smile after she has expertly executed the front handspring-front tuck sequence that marks the start of her floor routine. She flies through the rest of her combination, driven by her rush of elation after accomplishing the difficult skill during this critical moment. This seamless performance would earn her second place at the 2023 San Mateo Winter Invitational gymnastics meet.

“I was struggling so much with this one skill which is a front handspring-front tuck on floor and I could never land it,” Linda said. “I was training really hard for it every single day and I was landing maybe half of them. During my routine, I stuck it, and I was really amazed and shocked because I didn’t think I could do it.”

The journey for Linda to mature from an amateur gymnast to a serious competitor required years of hard work and dedication. At eight years old, after a gymnastics summer camp at Twisters Gymnastics piqued Linda’s interest in the sport, she began taking lessons and participating recreationally. 

Already participating in competitive dance, Linda initially declined adding competitive gymnastics to her schedule due to its intense time commitment. Motivated by her love for the sport, Linda made the decision to compete at a higher level in eighth grade, joining Airborne Gymnastics, where she worked her way through the ranks to the Xcel Platinum level, the third highest of the seven levels of competitive gymnastics in the Xcel program. 

“It was difficult to move dance classes to make time for gymnastics practice and sometimes I had to choose between going to dance and going to gymnastics, but in the end it was really worth it because it helped me so much with physical and mental health and making new friends,” Linda said. “I also stopped watching as much TV and procrastinating my homework to prioritize gymnastics.”

During her first season, in 2022, Linda earned first place for her bars routine at the USA Gymnastics State championship, which cemented her decision to commit to the sport. Since then, Linda has continued competing in all four gymnastics events, floor, vault, beam and bars, at various tournaments, most recently placing second at Spirit of the Flame, an elite level meet with international gymnasts and judges, in California.

Gymnast Linda Zeng (10) performs a switch leap during competition. She first began gymnastics at eight-years-old. (Provided by Linda Zeng)

Linda’s achievements in the sport are the product of an abundance of hardwork and dedication. Spending over nine hours each week in the gym, Linda experiences the physical and mental toll that gymnasts regularly face. Requiring strenuous conditioning exercises such as rope climbing to strengthen specific muscles, and endless attempts that often end in falls or failure, solidifying new skills is often a difficult challenge that can take months to overcome. In stretches where Linda struggles to polish her tricks, she focuses on pushing herself harder, running extra repetitions of exercises rather than dwelling in disappointment.

Furthermore, with one of the highest injury rates among all sports, gymnastics often carries high stakes. From slipping off the bars during complex maneuvers to over-rotating flips during vault exercises, Linda has experienced numerous bruises and sprains, not out of the ordinary for gymnasts. She finds it difficult to persevere past defeat and frustration, especially after a painful fall. 

“If [the fall] is very extreme and out of the blue, it’s just funny, because I know it will never happen again,” said Linda. “But if it’s something I do a lot, then it’s terrifying.”

Even after finally acquiring new tricks, maintaining them demands relentless repetition. But the rush of elation that comes with a stuck landing makes the rigorous training worthwhile to Linda.

“You can get a skill really well, but then if you don’t stay consistent with it, you lose it and it gets really frustrating,” Linda said. “The best moment is right after you land the skill for the first time because you have to do so many drills and prepare so much beforehand and fall so much. When you finally do it, you just feel like all your hard work finally pays off.”

Linda’s gymnastics teammates recognize her dedication to the sport. Evelyn Wang, a member of Linda’s team at Airborne Gymnastics, emphasizes her motivation to succeed and ability to push her limits to achieve her goals.

“She’s really hard working and one of the most determined people I know,” Evelyn said. “She has lots of discipline for herself. She works hard even when she’s tired and not a lot of people do that.”

Combining her gymnastics career with her background in dance, Linda choreographed floor routines for both herself and Evelyn, for this season’s events. She was able to showcase her talent as a competitive dancer as well as gymnast during her Intrasquad meet, a teamwide event meant to prepare for upcoming performances. Creating the elaborate sequence of tricks and moves, Linda spent hours at home perfecting the routines and bringing her ideas to life.

The more struggle I face and the more work I put in to overcome that, the more success I feel in the long run

— Linda Zeng (10)

“It was really fun to show it off and dance it,” Linda said. “I was really proud of it because, when I have a lot of adrenaline, I perform it really well, and my tumbling was good and I stuck it.”

Linda’s accomplishments in gymnastics have not come easily. With a taller stature than most of the others in her sport, perfecting new tricks forces Linda to push herself harder than many of her teammates. With their lower centers of gravity, shorter bodies allow for more control during complex acrobatics. Because increased height requires more energy and force to accomplish many of the same tricks, the gymnastics field is dominated by those of similar, small builds. Breaking this norm, Linda has persevered in the sport, even as her frame demands adaptation of certain skills. In her beam routines, Linda replaces back handsprings with roundoffs, because her height makes it physically difficult to execute the move.

Whether it means doing individual conditioning on her own to strengthen her body for the bars, or running sprints to simulate the vault, Linda constantly strives to push herself to reach her goals, a lesson that she strives to apply to all aspects of her life.

“Gymnastics has really influenced me in how I think about success and struggle,” Linda said. “That amazing feeling of success I get from hitting a routine perfectly or getting a skill I have been working toward comes from all the struggles and failure leading up to it. The more struggle I face and the more work I put in to overcome that, the more success I feel in the long run, and that’s ultimately what helps me persevere.”

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About the Contributor
Eva Cheng
Eva Cheng, Reporter
Eva Cheng (10) is a reporter for Harker Aquila, and this is her second year on staff. This year, Eva hopes to learn more about her community through interviews and interactions with students and faculty. Outside of class, she loves to play soccer, read, and spend time with her friends and family.

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