Dec. 10, 2003
It's to no one's surprise that all Calli Ryals has done in her life is succeed.
There were her parents, Douglas and Dineen, who believed in her all along. Then there was her Midview High School principal that didn't understand at the time why she was so intense about gymnastics. And then there was University of Michigan women's gymnastics head coach Beverly Plocki, who knew she was bringing in a girl three years ago that had an enormous amount of potential.
But for Ryals, that potential drove her to work harder and be the best she could possibly be.
"I think a football coach once said, 'Potential means that you just haven't done it yet.' I have always remembered that," she says. "You can have all the potential in the world, but it doesn't mean anything unless you have the work ethic and motivation to use it."
Let the record show that Ryals has both.
The Elyria, Ohio, native, entering her senior season at Michigan, is a five-time first-team, and two-time second-team All-American. She has been named Big Ten champion, earned several Conference accolades, and was even ranked as the No. 1 all-around gymnast in the nation for the final five weeks of the 2002 season.
Still, Ryals knows that any one of her Michigan teammates can easily garner those honors. That is one reason why the Wolverines have captured 11 of the last 12 Big Ten titles, and will be looking for their sixth-straight Conference championship this February.
"It's a lot more motivating to work hard when you're on a winning team," she says. "You always want to stay on top. We have so many talented gymnasts on our team. Everyone really pushes each other to work harder."
Ryals has never had a lack of motivation.
Growing up in a small, blue-collar town, where football and basketball reign among the high school ranks, Ryals focused on her dream of being a top gymnast. Ever since her mother instilled in her the importance of women in sports, Ryals watched the Olympics, picturing herself there on the floor some day, and longing for the chance to compete in college as well.
"It was tough in high school, because gymnastics wasn't a main sport. Here I was competing across the nation, and even internationally, and my principal didn't understand why I was so focused. He almost didn't take me seriously. But I tried to stay active in high school, performing on the dance team and getting involved with other activities."
Performing has always been a favorite of Ryals. Perhaps that is why she seems such a perfect fit - a perfect 10 if you will - on the competition floor. So it is again to no one's surprise that she'll look to continue performing after graduating with a degree in economics this spring.
"I have always loved gymnastics because of the performance and the creative side of expression. I really want to take it to the next level. I'm auditioning in February for Cirque du Soleil," she says, speaking of the world-famous show. "I think it would really be a fun experience."
Ryals' anticipation on her upcoming senior year is running high. She admits that she didn't realize how excited she was about the season until she walked into the gym for her first day of practice. Her coach is also excited about the season and the contributions that her tri-captain will bring to the squad once again.
"We knew Calli had a great deal of potential when we recruited her," says Plocki. "She has been a key player for us the last three years and will be an even bigger force for us this year as a senior. She has confidence in her gymnastics and it comes across in her performance. Calli is a spectacular dancer and her floor routines have always been her highlight. I know Calli is fired up for her senior year and she is looking fantastic, so I hope this will be her best year yet."
Being a tri-captain for this year's squad is an honor that Ryals takes to heart. She notes that coming into her freshman year, she looked to the upperclassmen for leadership. Having gained three freshmen this year, Ryals knows that her role is as important as ever.
"As an upperclassman, you have that voice on the team, you have that influence on the freshmen. That's really important to me because I remember what it was like when I was in their shoes."
Spoken like a veteran leader, Ryals offers advice to aspiring youngsters who dare to dream big as well.
"It's so important to keep a balance in your life," she says. "Don't take up one thing and make it your life right away. Try new things and stay fresh. When things are going bad in the gym, I always need that stuff outside of the gym to keep me fresh. Secondly, you have to make sure that what you're doing is what you love to do. You have to have a true passion for it. Do it for yourself."
And that's exactly what Ryals has done her whole life. She has maintained balance in her life just as she has performing on the 10 centimeter-wide balance beam.
And it's to no one's surprise that Ryals will never run out of potential, because she'll simply never stop working at it and dreaming big.