After 15 years of training, senior Samantha Wu will continue her gymnastics career to the University of Pennsylvania, where she hopes to concentrate in health science or neuroscience. When Wu was 3 years old, her mother introduced her to gymnastics, hoping the sport would be a fun way to improve her balance. Three years later, Wu’s coaches promoted her from the recreational side to the competitive side of the gym after seeing great potential in her.
“I was pretty nervous at my first competition,” Wu said. “But it was also exciting because competing shows off all of the hard work you put into every single practice.”
Since then, gymnastics has become an integral part of her life. Wu advanced one level each year until she entered level 10 and started her elite career — a path that gymnasts take to compete in higher national-level competitions.
In 2015 and 2017, Wu competed in the Hope’s Secret Classic, a competition in which 17 to 25 gymnasts across the nation were qualified to attend. Qualifying in 2015 was among Wu’s proudest achievements because it was the most prestigious competition she had competed in at the time.
“Even though I was nervous, I felt honored and proud of myself to be able to qualify for this competition in the first place and compete with some of the greatest gymnasts in the nation,” Wu said.
Wu admires the diversity of power and artistic ability in each of gymnastic’s four events: vault, bars, beam and floor. She also enjoys the social aspect of gymnastics, in which she is able to befriend athletes from different levels, teams and even countries, despite the individual and competitive nature of the sport.
Throughout Wu’s journey as a gymnast, her parents, friends and coaches have actively supported her progress. Wu has trained at the same gym, West Valley Gymnastics School, for her entire career, allowing time for her to form strong bonds with her coaches and friends.
“I also have a friend named Emily Lee who I’ve been training with since I was around seven or eight,” Wu said. “She got up to the 2021 Olympic trials and she’s one of the top gymnasts in the nation. I’ve always looked up to her and tried to follow her footsteps.”
Injuries were one of the greatest setbacks for Wu. Throughout her 15-year career, Wu has broken her foot, thumb, toe and wrist; each injury hindered her training for multiple months. However, with passion, a strong mentality and a great support system, Wu returned to the gym each time to become a better gymnast than she was before.
A typical day for Wu begins with all her classes at school, then going to the gym immediately after school, warming up, training for all four events and ending practice with conditioning for strength and endurance. After rigorous five-hour practices, Wu comes home at 9 p.m. to begin her homework. Wu initially found it challenging to maintain a balance between her academic and gymnastics career, but these challenges allowed her to practice and improve her time management — a crucial skill for every student athlete.
After talking to the team’s coaches, Wu and her family were incredibly happy after receiving an offer to continue her career at UPenn. Her friends who have been with her through her ups and downs were beyond proud of her commitment.
“Originally, I was accepted by UC Davis, but my dad kept telling me to keep my options open,” Wu said. “Then UPenn came into the picture. Since it’s one of the most prestigious colleges in the nation, I thought I was able to get the best of both worlds: academics and gymnastics. I also have cousins who live in Philadelphia, and it’s nice to know that I have some family members around me, so I decided to choose UPenn.”
Wu plans to continue and conclude her gymnastics career at UPenn as a student athlete. She is most excited about UPenn gymnastics’ team spirit and the opportunity to experience the cultures of the East Coast.
“College gymnastics is more of a team sport than an individual sport,” Wu said. “It’s a lot more fun than club gymnastics, so I’m really excited to be part of a group of people that hypes you up every single practice and constantly supports everything you do.”