From flying through the air, flipping, and doing back handsprings, gymnastics requires spectacular balance, strength, and grace. For Caroline Moore (C’19) and Valerie Rube (C’19), tumbling is only half the work. As senior gymnastics co–captains, Valerie and Caroline act as liaisons between the coaches and the team of 22 gymnasts. They lead team workouts, communicate with Penn Athletics, and manage team morale. For Caroline, being a captain means being “that force behind the team that really drives them forward.” She and Valerie work together to keep spirits high in and out of the gym. The women’s gymnastics team competes every weekend from mid–January to the end of March, with a total of 14 meets throughout the season. Over spring break, the team competed in two meets in Missouri and scored a personal best in Maryland, placing second overall.
“Addictive,” is how Caroline describes the sport. “There’s always something more to improve on. We’re always striving for a perfect score, for a routine that’s better than the last one. It’s also exciting to learn new skills. Call us crazy, but it’s kind of fun to see what your body can do.” During season the girls train three hours per day, four days a week, and then travel to compete on the weekends.
Caroline started gymnastics when she was just three years old and was competing by the age of five. “My mom put me in gymnastics because I just wouldn’t sit still as a kid.” She fell in love with the sport and by sophomore year of high school was categorized at level 10, the highest of USA Gymnastics junior levels. Transitioning from high school gymnastics to college required a major mindset switch, explains Caroline. “Growing up in the sport, it’s very individualized. You’re up there competing alone—even though you have teammates, at the end of the day it’s all about you.” In college, the team matters more than the individual. “Even if you individually had a good day, we don’t consider a good day if the team didn’t do well,” says Caroline. “The team atmosphere is so much more motivating—you’re not just doing it for yourself, but for the girls who work so hard alongside you.”
The other difference in college is event specialization. Women gymnasts compete in four events: vault, balance beam, uneven bars, and floor exercise. Although in high school, gymnasts train all four events, in college, gymnasts specialize. In college–level competitions, the best six on the team for each event get put in the line–up to compete during the meets. Caroline competes in three events: beam, floor, and vault. Meanwhile, Valerie specializes in vault.
Gymnastics is dangerous sport. Both Caroline and Valerie suffered major injuries their freshman year that put them out of commission. Caroline broke her tibia, or shinbone, in November of her freshman year, before her first competition season began. She was doing her signature “series,” or skills combination, on the balance beam—a one–arm back handspring back layout—when she came down crooked on the beam. “It was really frustrating because I came in very energetic and ready to contribute but then ended up not being able to show what I can do,” says Caroline. After standing out for two years, Caroline was made captain her junior season.
For Valerie, her path to leadership was also hard–won. Injured her freshman and sophomore seasons, Valerie bounced back to lead the team in vault and become captain her senior year.
Valerie got injured during warm-up before her first meet of freshman year, landing badly on her ankle during her signature vault, the Yurchenko full. Her injury went misdiagnosed for months while she kept trying and failing to push through it. As a result, Valerie couldn’t compete during her freshman and sophomore year seasons. “It was one, very painful and two, very frustrating.They thought it was a sprain then a bone bruise. Ultimately they found with an MRI that a piece of my bone had chipped off.”
Unable to train or compete, Valerie still found ways to contribute to the team. “I had to find other ways to be a part of the team, like moving mats and cheering on teammates. It was very humbling.” She got surgery her sophomore summer and was able to return to competing during her junior season. “One of the things that was scariest for me was doing that vault again, the Yurchenko full. I was afraid to have another bad landing,” says Valerie. She worked with her coach to retrain for a different vault landing and bounce back for her junior season.
Valerie also sings the national anthem at the start of every home meet in the Palestra, a role she took on sophomore year. While she and Caroline love to travel, home meets hold a special place in their hearts. “We call it Palestra Magic—there’s something about that space,” says Valerie. “It’s kind of cheesy but you can really feel it,” echoes Caroline.
With only three meets left, Neither Valerie nor Caroline is ready to admit that graduation is approaching fast. “The four years have flown by. It’s exciting but also scary because gymnastics has been part of my life for the past 18 years. Even with my injuries, these past four years made me thankful for the opportunities I’ve had and what I’ve learned from the sport.” says Valerie.