I don’t know if it’s because I’m typing this in my daughter’s gym that inspiration hit me to write about gymnastics, or if it was the absolutely dominating season that the UCLA gymnastics team had.
Either way, gymnasts will tell you they are no stranger to injuries. A story recently came out about our own 2018 floor co-champion Katelyn Ohashi, and how UCLA gymnastics and coach Valerie Kondos-Field (better known as “Coach Val” or “Miss Val”) basically saved her life. Ohashi was quoted as saying she had an “abusive and restrictive” experience with elite gymnastics, but the passion to perform was reignited at UCLA.
Another potentially tragic story with a happy ending exists in the not-so-distant UCLA gymnastics past of Ariana Berlin. Berlin grew up in San Diego, and trained at South Coast Gymnastics and Southern California Elite Gym from the time she was small. She was the Level 9 All-around champion and uneven bars runner-up at the 1999 Western National Championships, and was on her way to Level 10 and elite status until her life was completely changed in mere seconds.
A devastating car accident caused her early retirement from the sport in 2001. She and her mother were rear ended and run off the road, and Berlin ended up with, among other things, two broken legs and two collapsed lungs. She was in a five day induced coma, only to wake up and learn that she’d never compete again.
Not wanting to walk away from performing completely, Berlin auditioned for and made Culture Shock, a San Diego based breakdancing group that performed at Sea World, and was one of the troupe’s youngest members. As it happens, Coach Val was choreographing the group’s routines, and that’s where the UCLA story begins.
Being around Coach Val and gymnastics shows at the park enticed Berlin to approach Coach Val about UCLA gymnastics. She asked if she could be a walk-on if she could get back into gymnastics shape, and in true Coach Val fashion, the opportunity was granted.
Once her skills were regained, Coach Val actually joked that Berlin should graduate from high school early and make her way to UCLA as soon as possible. Well, that’s exactly what she did. In 2006 as a freshman, she hit 50 of 52 routines, and was the Pac-10 Co-Freshman of the Year. She became a regular competitor in the All-Around that year and had five top-three finishes.
This level of consistency continued, and after being a walk-on as a freshman, she earned a scholarship as a sophomore. She earned career high scores all the way through her senior year, and ended 2009 as a Pac-10 Scholar Gymnast of the Year and on the first-team Pac-10 All-Academic. She competed in 57 meets, never missing one, even with a knee injury three days before a meet versus Georgia her senior year. She hit 175 of her 182 career routines (96%), being one of the most consistent and successful gymnasts that UCLA has ever seen.
Full Out, the movie highlighting her story and her comeback, was released in 2015. Both she and Coach Val appear in the movie.
To see a floor routine she performed three days after a knee injury, check this out, thanks to emiloo:
For a more recent look from 2015, take a look at this from SKULLCANDY:
When John Wooden said, “Stay the course. When thwarted, try again, harder, smarter. Persevere relentlessly”, you could almost say he was speaking directly of Ariana Berlin’s story. Her persistence and passion for the sport took her father than anyone could have thought when she was in the hospital the days following her horrific accident. I’m sure her experiences made her the person she is today.