OSAGE | When Grace Woolfolk started taking gymnastics as part of recreational classes at 6 years old, it was more for fun than for competition.
Now, the 17-year-old senior is a level-10 gymnast and headed to Iowa State University.
“My parents told me when I was little, I had a lot of energy and was always running around the house, so they signed me up for gymnastics to see if I liked it, and I did,” Woolfolk said.
Woolfolk, who began her training at level 1 in Starkville, Mississippi, and trained in Memphis, Tennessee, began looking at colleges and gymnastics programs when she reached level 9, Something she achieved prior to moving to Osage with her family. Woolfolk is now a level 10.
Woolfolk will be attending Iowa State University following graduation where she will be a member of their gymnastic team.
“They actually wanted me to graduate from high school early, but I decided not to,” she said. “It was just so sudden. I’d gone to one of their camps, since they hadn’t seen me in practice, and they were impressed.”
Woolfolk practices in Rochester, Minnesota, five days a week from 5-9 p.m., except on Saturdays when she practices from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. On school days, she leaves for Rochester right after school and doesn’t get home until almost 11 p.m.
“A lot of people who talk about college gymnastics feel its more fun than the Olympics because a lot of time you have to home school just to be able to get the practices in for the Olympics,” she said. “I think it’s more fun to be part of a team. Being part of a team just makes you want to do it more.”
Woolfolk said her goal was always participate in competitive gymnastics through college.
“Iowa State stood out because the coaches were really nice,” Woolfolk said. “Usually college coaches are so intense and can be intimidating, but they were so nice and have stuck with me through injuries so that’s why I want to go there.”
While Woolfolk has thoughts of majoring in kinesiology or nutrition, she has yet to decide fully on a major. A tough, demanding sport, she said gymnastics has taught her discipline, hard work, the necessity of staying on top of her grades so that she is eligible for competition, team work, and time management.
“You have to consider what you are doing when you are twisting through the air,” Woolfolk said. “It takes a toil mentally and helps me overcome my fears. It just gives you the mental ability to get over things quicker.
“Plus you’re always around a bunch of people and it really teaches you to get along with those you might have drama with. You’re also taught to respect, listen to and trust your coach.”
Though she is not competing this season, Woolfolk continues to train and enjoys watching college gymnastics meets and the Olympics. In addition, she will begin training with the Iowa State gymnastics team in the summer.
“Usually, gymnasts who go through college programs end up as assistant coaches and eventually head coaches. I will probably end up coaching, either at a college or a club gym,” she said. “I really enjoy coaching and working with kids. It’s easy for me since I know what they’re going through.
“Some people do gymnastics for fun while others want to reach Olympic levels. It doesn’t matter what age you choose to do it, any age is a good place to start.”