Alethea Boon was a 6-year old in New Zealand when she sat down in front of the television and watched fellow Kiwi Nikki Jenkins take a gold medal on vault at the Commonwealth Games in 1990.
That one performance propelled Boon into nagging her parents for the next two years until they put her into a recreational gymnastics program. Now, Boon didn't just sit around waiting for those two long years until she could get professional training. No, she trained herself.
She started doing the basics, handstands, walkovers, cartwheels and anything else she could work on by herself. And along with talent, that prep work skipped her right through the rec program and into a competition group.
"I started in rec at the local club, and they had a handstand competition. I held it close to a minute," Boon said. Not only did she win the competition, they told her that she was in the wrong place and needed to be learning at a much faster rate.
"When I was younger I was very gutsy. I didn't know it was scary," she said, and noted that she never regretted pushing her parents into getting her into the gym because until she was 13, all the hours she spent preparing were just play. "We got to go and flip around all over the place. It was so much fun."
And, of course, after awhile, her favorite event became the vault, the same event that her hero had won the gold on so many years before.
"I just like the power," said Boon, who has been competing vault, floor and beam for BYU for years. At about the middle of last season, she added her least favorite event, bars, and now is the only Cougar competing in the all-around. The reason it took her so long to add bars to her events is that she had a tough time transitioning to the wider bar settings and kept missing the lower bar on her releases.
And now, just as she's getting a great bars routine together, her career is nearing its end, which is a bittersweet thought for the girl from New Zealand.
"At 24 my body is not what it used to be," Boon noted, adding that it is time she give her battered body a break from the tough sport. She's also looking forward to the freedom that comes from not having to be in the gym five hours every day.
"When you're doing gymnastics you can't wait until you're free to go play, but now I'm nervous because I'll have all that time and I have to find something to do to fill it. Finishing gymnastics is forcing me to get out of my comfort zone," she noted.
In getting out of that comfort zone, she wants to try anything and everything, including kickboxing and basketball, which, she notes, will help her to maintain her fitness level. Another activity she's really looking forward to learning is hip-hop dancing, which should go right along with her gymnastics training and obvious dancing ability on the floor exercise, which is another of her favorite apparatuses.
It'll be nice not to have to worry about rehabilitating injuries for a gymnastics career any longer either, and she's suffered some very different injuries, especially in her time at BYU.
Her first major problem since a toe injury, a knee problem and a stress fracture in her back came when she suffered a fall in a canyon and injured a wrist that has since undergone myriad surgeries and was finally feeling much better a few weeks ago. But just as her wrist injury was in healing mode, the girl who can flip and fly on a four-inch wide beam fell down a flight of stairs and injured her Achilles tendon. She can compete on it now because of painkillers but is still in shock over falling down the stairs.
Though her time at BYU hasn't been particularly easy on her body, it has taught her plenty. Four years ago, before coming to Provo, Boon enjoyed her solitary life and the fact that in club gymnastics you only have to count on yourself, and you get all the glory.
But she quickly learned that college gymnastics is not only a different animal, it's so much more fun to be a part of a team.
"In club if you have a hard day, then you have a hard day, but here, your teammates can help get you through it," she said.
And she's enjoyed it so much that she plans to stick around the area for at least one more year.
She arrived at BYU after her aunt had a chance meeting at a baseball game with BYU coaches Brad and Dawn Cattermole. That aunt informed them she had a niece who did gymnastics, and Boon enrolled at BYU without even having had a recruiting visit. Then, not only did she fly thousands of miles from her island home south of the equator, she came in during winter semester, which made her nervous about exactly how she would be accepted into the team.
"I didn't talk much my freshman year, but since then I've grown into myself, and now they can't shut me up," said Boon, who was one of three Polynesians on the team when she arrived and is now the last to leave.
And now, her regular season gymnastics career is coming to an end as the Cougars travel up to the University of Utah for their final meet before regionals."I never thought this day would come, but you want to go out with a big crowd, and what better place is there to do it?" she concluded.
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