Fantastic freshman: Rookie gymnast Katie Waldman ’21 talks transition to college, terrific season

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Freshman Katie Waldman talks about her transition to college and her freshman season on the women's gymnastics team. COURTESY PHOTO / TRIBE ATHLETICS.

Freshman Katie Waldman came to campus this year with the rest of the class of 2021, moving from her home just outside Omaha, Nebraska for the first time in her life. Just like other freshmen, she’s gotten herself involved on campus, tried to decide what to major in, found friend groups and made herself familiar with Earl Gregg Swem Library. But unlike most of her classmates, Waldman has had a standout rookie season with the William and Mary women’s gymnastics team.

Waldman found herself in Williamsburg after searching for a college that prided itself on good academics and had a gymnastics program she could join. She said she followed a friend from her club gym back home, junior Regan Sindelar, who is also on the gymnastics team at the College.

Like many other freshmen, Waldman said she found the transition from high school to college to be a big one.

“High school was a lot easier, so I didn’t study that much, but this year I study all the time,” she said. “Even when I don’t have a test, I’m still studying and getting all the information in.”

However, Waldman’s transition hasn’t only involved making the switch from high school study habits to late nights in Swem with friends. She’s also had to adjust to living outside of Nebraska for the first time in her life and has come to appreciate the natural beauty of the College’s campus.

“It’s weird because there’s so many trees here, which sounds crazy, but I had to get used to all the trees,” said Waldman. “So when I went home for winter break I was like, ‘Wow there’s no trees here, it’s really weird.’ I’ve just gotten so used to the landscape here and I really like it.”

Of course, the biggest transition of all has been the change from club gymnastics to competing at the collegiate level.

Waldman has come to prefer the coaching style of college gymnastics. She explained that back home, multiple levels of gymnasts would train together and sometimes she would be left to practice her skills alone while her coaches focused on helping the younger girls.

“It’s really nice to have a whole team of girls all doing the same level skills and all able to help each other,” Waldman said. “Even if my coach isn’t necessarily paying attention to that turn I just did, I’ll always have a teammate that saw it and can help me out.”

Waldman has found that this atmosphere is one of her favorite parts about competing for the Tribe.

According to her, the team is close and supportive both in practice and in the athletes’ free time, which helps everyone do better in competition.

“Coming in with my freshman class has been really nice because we’re all super close and we hang out all the time,” said Waldman. “In practice we have fun and work hard and that really translates to the meet. We’re relaxed in the meet because we know we can trust our teammates to do their job and they’ll support us when we’re going up.”

While she was close with the other girls who trained at her gym back in Nebraska, Waldman expressed that the team element of gymnastics is far more significant at the collegiate level.

“It’s been a big shift from club to college because here it’s all about the team,” she said. “You don’t really think about yourself while you’re competing, it’s all about what you can do for the team, so that’s been really different.”

Waldman is an all-around competitor, meaning she competes on all four events — balance beam, uneven bars, floor exercise and vault.

She trains on two or three events every weekday. To ensure she doesn’t injure herself, she never trains floor and vault on the same day, and during the meet season, she only trains on bars three days per week.

According to Waldman, practice usually begins with a team warmup, and then the gymnasts rotate through the events they’ll be training on that day. At the end of practice, there’s usually some conditioning.

Waldman said her favorite event to train is beam, although her favorite to compete on is bars, which she said is strange, because bars is her least favorite event to train.

“When I was younger I was really terrified of bars, it really scared me,” she said. “But when I compete on bars, I just feel calm and like all of a sudden I know I have this routine, which isn’t always the same in practice. In practice I get on the beam and I’m just like, ‘Wow I love this.’”

When it comes time to compete, Waldman is thankful for the intense practice schedule and the coaching she receives throughout the week.

She said she overcomes her nerves by relying on the skills she develops in practice and trying not to think about everything going on during the meet.

“Honestly, I try not to think too much about my gymnastics and I try to just trust my training,” Waldman said. “Usually I try to focus on everyone else’s routines and how everyone else is doing and just focus on my routines when it’s time for me to be out there.”

While Waldman doesn’t have any major meet-day superstitions, she does rely on her pre-meet routine.

“I have a playlist that I make at the beginning of each season that I listen to the entire meet season before every meet,” Waldman said. “Every night before a meet, I write down my goals for the next day and then the day of the meet I always drink a Gatorade.”

During gymnastics meets, the participating teams rotate through the different events. Two or more events will be going on at once, but only one team will be on each event at a time. This means that athletes are usually zeroed in on watching their own team, rather than focusing on everything that’s happening around the gym.

Unlike in many other sports, in gymnastics it can be easy to overlook the scores during the meet. However, Waldman acknowledged she has a hard time ignoring scores if they’re posted.

“I do like to look at scores,” Waldman said. “I’m a big score watcher. But I also remind myself that it’s not always about the score and it’s more about doing our best as a team together. If they have the scores up, I definitely look at them and see where we are, but I try not to think about it too much while I’m actually doing gymnastics.”

To distract herself from staring at the scores and from her upcoming events, Waldman focuses on supporting her teammates.

Once a gymnast finishes an event, she salutes the judges and then runs into the arms of her teammates who are always standing by to congratulate her with hugs and high fives.

Waldman earned many congratulations this season, taking individual titles on various events at many meets throughout the year. She won the all-around title at the Eastern College Athletic Conference championships in March, posting the third-best all-around score in school history. She also competed in the all-around at the National Collegiate Athletic Association Raleigh Regional this past weekend, placing 14th in the Southeast region. Waldman said she is proud of her accomplishments this season, but that she has even higher hopes for next year.

Her accomplishments would not have been possible without the support of her parents. Her mom was able to attend two meets this season, one of which was at home, and both of her parents came to support her in the ECAC championship, which Waldman said she was grateful for.

According to Waldman, her parents put her in gymnastics when she was young to give her an outlet for her energy, and when she wanted to continue with the sport, they supported her and helped her find a way.

“When I was little I was crazy,” Waldman said. “I bounced around and flipped on the couch and stuff, so my parents put me in classes. From there I just loved it.”

Despite her busy schedule, Waldman has still found time to commit to activities besides gymnastics. She wants to major in a science and likely follow a pre-med track.

When she needs to take time for herself, Waldman likes to listen to music and binge watch shows online.

“I really like music,” said Waldman. “I spend a lot of time listening to music. Whenever I need to get away I put in my headphones. I listen to a lot of pop music and I watch a lot of Netflix and Hulu. I’ve started watching Hulu more because Netflix has taken off some of my favorite shows, like ‘One Tree Hill.’”

She said she will be spending her summer in Williamsburg in order to take physics and hopes to coach at a local gym in her free time. Waldman said she enjoyed mentoring the younger girls at her gym in Nebraska and loves working with children, so she is excited to get to know the girls in the local gymnastics community.

She also hopes to travel this summer to make the most of her time living on the East Coast and to see sights she isn’t able to experience in Nebraska.

“I want to take some road trips and go to the beach because Virginia Beach is only like 45 minutes away, which is kind of a foreign concept to me, to have a beach that close,” Waldman said. “We never really traveled that much to the East Coast, so it’ll be nice to see a mountain, maybe.”

In terms of her offseason, Waldman expressed it’s important to stay in shape and keep her endurance up, but not to push herself too hard. In gymnastics, there is a fine line between pushing yourself and injuring yourself.

“I’m really hoping I can stay healthy and just do my best to not overdo things and trust my training,” Waldman said.

She said that the team practices together even outside of competition season.

“We don’t train routines, but we have to keep training our individual skills all throughout the season,” Waldman said. “We do more cardio routines in the offseason, so it’s a little bit lighter on your body but you still maintain the endurance to do a floor routine.”

Waldman said that even though she accomplished a lot this year, she’s confident she could top her freshman season.

She plans on focusing on small details throughout her training so that she can perform her routines even more flawlessly next season.

“This season was amazing, and I know I couldn’t have asked for anything more, but I still know that I can do better,” Waldman said. “I know that my legs aren’t always completely straight and things like that. I think this summer I’m going to focus a lot on form because most of my skills are there. I don’t think I’m going to upgrade much, so I’m going to focus a lot on the form and the technique of things.”

More than anything, Waldman is thankful for her teammates and the support she has found in them. Although she is living far from home, she has found a second home in the Tribe.

“They’ve helped me so much,” Waldman said. “Not even just with gymnastics but with school and everything. They’ve helped me with my classes, studying, picking out new classes and I love having them there to support me throughout whatever I’m doing.”