Gymnastics club flips into the limelight

Katya Zakar | Mercury Staff

In the gym, members of the UTD gymnastics club perform flips, turns on the beam and splits. But beyond the floor, these gymnasts can be found bonding over scoops of ice cream at Braum’s and cultivating a sense of kinship.

Katya Zakar | Mercury Staff

UTD’s gymnastics club, hosted by University Recreation, was established in 2012 by UT Austin alum Rayn Huffer; the group has since earned the university New Sport Club of the Year award in 2012 and secured multiple state and national titles, including the top three spots in National High Bar Title and All Around National Title at the National Association of Intercollegiate Gymnastics Clubs tournament. Members attend practices on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at Elevate Gymnastics in Dallas. Sarah Boutouis, an ATEC junior and vice president of the gymnastics club, said the team is accepting of all skill levels. Prospective members can participate in three trial practices to acclimate to the environment before officially joining the club. Membership requires a $20 due after the trial and an additional $40 fee in the spring for competition, covering entry fees and partial travel expenses.

“We’re a super inviting environment … you could be a complete beginner and we could teach you your first cartwheel,” Boutouis said. “We are just super happy to have anybody who wants to join the gymnastics club and we will teach anybody anything.”

Boutouis discovered the gymnastics team during her freshman year, drawn by a desire to cheer for UTD. She found the welcoming atmosphere of the gymnastics team appealing and became increasingly involved, eventually managing their social media and taking on the role of vice president. Boutouis said the team takes good care of its members, even after mistakes and slip-ups.

“The other day I was on beam, and I took a really bad fall … my teammates, they saw everything [and] they all rushed over to make sure I was okay,” Boutouis said. “One of my teammates just sat with me the whole time. We just take care of each other so well.”

Despite their division into men’s and women’s events, members can participate in all gymnastics events, including floor routines, still rings, vaults, high bars, balance beams and more. The openness of the competition allows for members like computer science junior Samuel Soisson to compete in both categories at their leisure.

“You’re able to switch off to whatever events you want,” Soisson said. “[And] it’s a very good source of teamwork that I really haven’t felt … since I did gymnastics when I was in middle school.”

MBA graduate student Alexandra Barskiy moved to Dallas last year, finding the gymnastics club through their Instagram. With no prior experience in gymnastics, she said practicing the new skills has been a learning curve, but she gained a sense of community along the way; she said it is important for grad students to get involved.

“I didn’t know anyone when I moved to Dallas, so it was such a great way to meet people and have people who have no choice but to hang out with you every week,” Barskiy said. “It’s a good group of positive community … I feel a little more involved in the school and get to see people who aren’t doing the exact same thing as me.”

In 2024, the team will participate in six meets around Texas under the Texas Gymnastics Consortium, or TGC. The season culminates with the TGC Championships in College Station, Texas on March 23.

“I am frankly not the best gymnast in the world, I’m not going to these meets to win,” Barskiy said. “But it’s so nice having a group of people who support you so unconditionally. I have a meet in three weeks. And so being able to dedicate growing and working towards that and preparing for it … I’ve committed that this is something that’s really good for me.”

The team lost many members due to COVID, and now because of only having 18 members, the team has become relatively unknown. However, the club hopes to grow its membership and become an official sport at UTD.

“Even if I’m there or not, I would love to see gymnastics not be a club sport,” Boutouis said. “I want it to be a UT Dallas sport.”

Kayta Zakar | Mercury Staff

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