Q & A with Penn State Gymnast Kate Stopper

Penn State senior Kate Stopper will close out her Big Ten career this season after four successful seasons in Happy Valley. The Reinholds, Pennsylvania native was recently awarded the Ann Carr Award, given to the gymnast with the most inspirational performance of the meet - in the Nittany Lions defeat of New Hampshire, Cornell and Missouri on February 5, 2005. Stopper will look to repeat as a member of the Academic All-Big Ten team as well as earn some trophies at the Big Ten Conference Championships on March 26th at the University of Iowa.

Looking back at your college career so far, what are your overall thoughts about where you are at?
I really think being involved in college gymnastics has made me a better gymnast, student and overall a better person. I'm more ambitious and determined and have learned that I really can do anything I set my sights on.

What do you do to stay calm and focused at critical times?
I start out by taking a deep breath and then I remind myself that I've been doing the same skills for years. When it comes time to compete, I tell myself I only have one of everything to do that day, and I know I can make just one.

What have been some of the difficulties this season that both you and your team have gone through?
The problems we have been experiencing have nothing to do with physical ability. Everything that has gone wrong with me and my team members is completely mental. We just really need to know that we are an awesome team and be confident that we are going to make every skill in every routine.

Why did you choose to attend Penn State?
I chose Penn State because the atmosphere was so overwhelmingly awesome. I came here for my first recruiting trip ever, and after I left I didn't want to even consider another school. The people, the coaches, the girls on the team, the campus, the location from home...everything about it felt right.

What situation puts you under the most pressure?
Just the feeling you get being at a meet waiting to compete is so nerve wracking, but the most pressure comes when someone before you falls. But usually that makes me more aggressive because I know we can't afford another mistake.

Has your collegiate career gone the way you thought it would or has it gone beyond what you expected?
It definitely has gone beyond what I expected. When I first came my freshman year, I wrote Coach Shephard an email saying I felt like I didn't deserve to be on the team because I wasn't nearly good enough.

What are some of the things that you want to accomplish before your college career is over?
I would love to finish my last year by scoring a 10.0, but even if that doesn't happen, just knowing that I did everything I could to do my best and having no regrets when I leave would be good enough.

What are some of the biggest challenges that you've had to overcome?
When I first came to college, my body wasn't used to vaulting and tumbling so much every single day. I've been dealing with shin splits in both shins for four years now, sometimes they've been so bad I had to stay off them and got tested for stress fractures.

What are some of the philosophies your coaches try to get through to the team or you as an individual?
They really believe in us as a team and individually, and they try to get us to believe in ourselves as much as they do. It's hard sometimes to focus on the things you did well in a practice or a meet when something else didn't go the way you had planned

Personally, what has been your greatest accomplishment as a student-athlete and why?
Making a difference in the lives of our young fans. I never realized how much younger children look up to me. I've had people recognize me outside of being in the gym and ask me for autographs, and I've also received fan emails and letters. I talk on instant messenger with younger gymnasts. It's just a great feeling to know that you mean so much to people you don't even know.

As a kid what athlete or role model did you look up to and why?
I grew up in a family of athletes. My dad, uncles, grandfather and two older brothers were all heavily involved with sports, mainly football. I always looked up to my brothers and tried to do the things they could do. I always thought anything they could do, I could do too.

How did you first get involved with gymnastics and why?
When I was in third grade I told my mom that when I got to high school I wanted to be a cheerleader. So she thought it would be a good idea to get me started in gymnastics so I could learn to tumble. The following year I had picked up on the sport so quickly I got asked to join the team and started competing.

What is your favorite moment during a competition and why?
I love when I get so focused and am so confident in what I'm doing that everything goes the way I want it to, and then I finish my routine by saluting the judges and I hear the crowd and see the smiling faces of everyone in the gym. It makes me feel like I did the best I could.

What are some of the difficulties in competing in your sport at a high level that the average fan may not be aware of?
Even though we have been doing this sport for over a decade, we still get nervous. Nerves and self-doubt are the hardest things to control, and for some of us, some skills are even scary.

What are the areas of your performance which you feel you have improved on the most recently?
Since I came to college, my form in all my routines has improved. I've also gained harder difficulty on floor and maintained my skills on my other events. But most importantly, I'd say I've become a performer.

How much do you rely on your teammates both during competition and in your life?
All my closest friends are my teammates. They are like the sisters I never had, which is nice since I grew up being the youngest with two older brothers. During a meet it makes me more nervous if I can't hear them cheering me on and encouraging me to do the best I can.

What are some of your other favorite sports?
I enjoy football. I probably would have played growing up if they had a girl's league.

What are some of your weaknesses as an athlete in your sport?
I don't really have good technique and I've been told that my whole life. However, I can get away with it because I'm very powerful. I also get very frustrated when I have to work hard to gain a new skill, because I'm so used to everything coming naturally to me.

What are some of your strengths?
I picked up the sport of gymnastics so quickly, so I'd say I'm a quick learner. As I said before, I'm very powerful which is probably the reason I learn skills quickly.

What are your plans after graduation?
I plan on going to graduate school to obtain a Master's degree in Education for Secondary School Counseling.

What do you do to kick back and unwind after a tough competition?
Anything to get my mind off of gymnastics. Good or bad, the competition is over and I can't do anything to change it. Hanging out with my friends and boyfriend is good enough for me.

What is something that you would like people to know about you that you think isspecial or that just people may not be aware of?
I actually quit the sport twice, once in 6th grade and again in 8th grade. Every time I told my coach I was done I ended up crying, so my mom really didn't believe I wanted to quit, so she told me until I could go up to my coach and tell him I wanted to quit without crying she wouldn't let me quit. Here's an interesting bit of information, I was the first Stopper girl born after 33 consecutive Stopper boys, and I was actually supposed to be a boy, so I was quite the surprise.