Senior Alek Kuzmenchuk reflects on Tribe gymnastics career

JAMIE HOLT // THE FLAT HAT As captain of the men’s gymnastics team and editor-in-chief of The Monitor, senior Alek Kuzmenchuk serves as a leader both inside and outside the gym.

Senior Alek Kuzmenchuk exemplifies what it means to be a true scholar-athlete. As the men’s gymnastics captain, the editor-in-chief of The Monitor — the College of William and Mary’s journal of international studies — and a recent Fulbright scholarship recipient, Kuzmenchuk remains dedicated to his athletic and academic commitments.

“The biggest lesson I’ve learned in college gymnastics is that as long as you are doing what you’re passionate in, you have to be all right with what you put in and what you get out,” Kuzmenchuk said. “They’re almost always correlated, whether you see it or not.”

Both Kuzmenchuk’s coaches and teammates commend his academic drive.

“You can tell from his many involvements and achievements that he’s very detail-oriented and driven and has very high expectations and aspirations,” William and Mary men’s and women’s gymnastics director Mike Powell said. “All that made it a real privilege and a joy to work with him throughout the four years.”

Graduate student and former men’s gymnastics captain Aidan Cuy echoed this sentiment.

“As a friend, he’s definitely an inspiration,” Cuy said. “I admire Alek’s work ethic and his commitment to what he works on.”

Kuzmenchuk began gymnastics at around three years old, eventually competing for Paragon Gymnastics in Columbia, Md.

When he was a sophomore in high school, Kuzmenchuk attended the Elite Team Cup, an annual premier gymnastics event.

In hindsight, Kuzmenchuk recalls how much the event fueled his desire to compete at a collegiate level. 

“You’re thrown onto a team with a lot of people you don’t know, but you make it work, and you play to each other’s strengths,” Kuzmenchuk said. “I remember coming back going, ‘I really want to do college gymnastics.’”

Though Kuzmenchuk described his college recruitment process as “laborious” in terms of choosing a school, he felt William and Mary’s emphasis on international learning — specifically the Global Research Institute — was an important factor in ultimately making his college decision.

“I was kind of making a decision based on my career and interests rather than on just the gymnastics numbers themselves,” Kuzmenchuk said. “There was a lot more impact I could potentially have on the team, not just competing, but also as someone who cares about teamwork and academics.”

Powell expanded on Kuzmenchuk’s recruitment process.

“It was apparent to me from our first contact in the recruiting process that this was a great place for him,” Powell said. “It would match his cross-cultural skills, his values, his experiences, his goals for his career and his desire to make an impact on the world.”

Throughout Kuzmenchuk’s four years with the Tribe, the team has changed immensely.

“I think the slightly newer coaching staff means that we have a bit more variation year to year, but it’s gotten better every single year,” Kuzmenchuk said.

In 2020, William and Mary decided to discontinue Tribe men’s gymnastics — alongside six other varsity sports teams — due to financial concerns. The decision came a week before Kuzmenchuk began practicing with the team. Though student-athletes and alumni helped reinstate men’s gymnastics roughly two months later, Kuzmenchuk identified his freshman season as pivotal in shaping the team’s culture moving forward.

“We began with this underdog mentality,” Kuzmenchuk said. “We actually made it to NCAAs as a team and qualified as a team for the seventh time in our program history.”

During Kuzmenchuk’s sophomore season, the team lost nearly half its routines after graduation.

“We started over with by far the smallest and, in most cases, half the size of most NCAA teams in terms of people,” Kuzmenchuk said.

After hanging a “Ted Lasso”-inspired “Believe” poster — which Kuzmenchuk credits to his class of 2022 teammates — the team competed tirelessly.

“We fought to the very end that year, and against all odds, we got very, very close to nationals,” Kuzmenchuk said.

With increased numbers the following season, the team focused on fostering a more structured environment. Both Kuzmenchuk and Cuy emphasized the importance of positive growth for Tribe gymnastics the past two years.

“We were a lot more vocal and up-front about what we wanted the culture to be like in terms of working hard but also being kind to yourself and one another,” Cuy said.

Kuzmenchuk also highlighted the team’s efforts to increase its difficulty score by learning new skills, particularly during the 2023 season.

Though the team has not qualified for NCAAs since his freshman year, Kuzmenchuk believes the Tribe’s men’s gymnastics culture has completely shifted from what it once was.

“Our culture is very dynamic,” Kuzmenchuk said. “I think people feel like they can apply their strengths to the team, which is always a good thing for any organization.”

As an international relations major and a data science minor, Kuzmenchuk is involved in numerous extracurricular activities outside of the gym. On top of his work with The Monitor and in research labs, Kuzmenchuk has also interned with the U.S. Department of State, traveling to India last summer to learn Hindi through the Critical Language Scholarship Program.

“I think I’ve had the most success in letting different interests occupy different parts of my brain,” Kuzmenchuk said. “When I go to practice, I can kind of turn off all the stuff from school and just go do something and try to give everything that I can there.”

Kuzmenchuk has received several academic recognitions, including the NCAA Elite 90 award and William and Mary’s Provost Award for the past three years. Kuzmenchuk was also inducted into the Phi Beta Kappa Honor Alpha Society — the nation’s oldest and largest academic honor society — in the fall 2023 semester.

Despite these accomplishments, teammates and coaches highlighted Kuzmenchuk’s humility.

“He’s a great guy to talk to,” Cuy said. “Even if you don’t know him that well, he’ll come up to you, he’ll chat with you.”

Cuy applied Kuzmenchuk’s kindness to his role as captain.

“He’s very thorough with his words,” Cuy said. “When he’s leading or talking to us as a team, I know there’s a lot that he’s thinking about and really putting into those words. They mean a lot for the team right now.”

Powell highlighted how Kuzmenchuk’s inclusive nature has contributed so positively to his success as a leader.

“He’s always creating space for the team and bringing the team together and keeping the team motivated,” Powell said. “It’s all about that effort.”

Though Kuzmenchuk has enjoyed his extracurriculars and time with Tribe men’s gymnastics, he identified the challenges he’s faced discovering his role within the gym.

“I’ve kind of had to find my role on the team, and I think it’s been a hard pill to swallow that my role might not come from gymnastics,” Kuzmenchuk said. 

Powell also noticed this challenge.

“He has high goals and aspirations and expectations for himself, which is great, as long as he doesn’t become so perfection-driven that it starts holding him back,” Powell said. “It’s been fun to see him grow into that, especially this year, and really get some more enjoyment out of the moment.”

Kuzmenchuk further emphasized his personal growth throughout his past four years with the Tribe.

“You have to align what you’re willing to do with what you expect from yourself,” Kuzmenchuk said. “You have to know what your boundaries are and not freak out when things are not just wildly better than you ever expected them to be.”

Though Kuzmenchuk will miss Tribe men’s gymnastics, he looks forward to traveling to India again with his Fulbright scholarship. There, he will examine the theoretical and practical definitions of the country’s democracy and civilizational ethos since its independence.

“I’ve been very proud to be on the gymnastics team here,” Kuzmenchuk said. “It’s a group of very diverse and very interesting people who are genuinely in love with the sport. People are hard working, and they’ve pushed me, and as the team continues to mature, I can’t wait to see where they go next.” 


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