Starting something new can be intimidating to some but at the peak of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, a new endeavor could be even harder to take on.
Hannah Goldhaber knew something was missing from her life. The junior exercise science major tried diving, cheerleading and other sports — but they didn’t satisfy her desire for taking on a new sport. Once the pandemic hit, she felt the urge to express herself even more, which led her to her first love — gymnastics.
It was the height of the pandemic and the beginning of the fall 2020 semester when Montclair State University’s gymnastics club was created.
“Once [COVID-19] hit, I needed to get something going and I didn’t want to leave gymnastics behind,” Goldhaber said. “So I wasn’t going to stop and I was going to work my butt off until I got this team started.”
Goldhaber, the president of the team, kick-started it by finding the current vice president, Katherine Margolin, a junior chemistry major, through social media and was amazed by her background and talent in the sport. Margolin was interested in joining the team and they have been a dynamic duo ever since.
The coed team started during the peak of the pandemic in September 2020. This deterred them from competing regularly and making a name for themselves. Despite the gymnastics team being one of the newest clubs on campus, the Red Hawk gymnasts work exceptionally well.
The club recently competed in a virtual meet held by the National Association of Intercollegiate Gymnastics Club (NAIGC). Margolin placed second on the vault and bars events as well as a third-place finish on the floor exercise. Goldhaber placed second on the floor exercise.
Goldhaber and Margolin emphasize the importance of inclusivity. The team welcomes everyone regardless of their skill level. Gymnasts like Curt Lorico, a junior computer science major, picked up on routines very well as a beginner. On his first day, he knew he had made the right decision.
“The people were very welcoming and everyone helped me go along and they don’t rush you or expect you to be very advanced when you just join,” Lorico said. “They had me explore all the different types [of events] that you can do and I enjoy being on the rings and bars.”
Goldhaber emphasizes that her motivation is also fueled by seeing the improvement of gymnasts who just started and seeing them go off to nationals and regionals.
“This is the most sure of themselves that [I] have ever seen them,” Goldhaber said. “From seeing their love for gymnastics to seeing them going to Nationals is very inspiring – and we just want everyone to [experience] that and it encourages us to keep going.”
The team is a curation of two memberships: one for people who have never done gymnastics before and for others who have more experience or eventually want to do it competitively. As leaders, Goldhaber and Margolin stress that encouragement and guidance are critical even with the little things.
“Everyone has to start from somewhere,” Goldhaber said. “No one’s [going to] come in and be Simone Biles in one day. We all started as beginners, no matter what age we were, some of them are beginners in college now, some of them are coming in with 15 years of experience. But regardless of what experience they’re coming in with, they’re there to learn and we’re there to teach them.”
It was difficult starting from the bottom, but quitting wasn’t an option. The team emphasizes that having each other is one of the things that guided them through it all.
“Everyone has grown so close over both years and I see so many friendships that were formed,” Goldhaber said. “So it’s almost like coming home to a family when you’re away from home.”
The team continues to compete in meets, but their devotion to gymnastics brought them to regionals in Pennsylvania and nationals in Wisconsin coming up this spring.
“It is very exciting,” Margolin said. “So right now we’re prepping for that and we’re trying to make sure everyone has their routine solid.”
Though the pandemic brought its burdens, the team showed consistency, resilience, bravery and used gymnastics to express themselves freely. Margolin says she sees this through floor exercises. She emphasizes that people’s personalities shine and each routine is curated differently for each gymnast.
“You have the most freedom to express yourself on the floor and just seeing myself and others come out of [our] comfort zone and really have fun with it makes me realize the whole reason why we’re here,” Margolin said.