A Star is Born

Jan. 24, 2002

by Theresa Ripp

Lights from Seattle's twinkling skyline and crowded suburbs can often obscure the stars in the night sky. Husky gymnast Gharde Geldenhuys misses being able to see the stars as they looked from her small farm in the openness of Swakopmund, Namibia in Africa. A sophomore on Washington's gymnastics team for the 2002 season, Geldenhuys came to Washington in 1999, and is only able to return home once a year in the summer to visit her mother, Valerieis and younger brother, Arno.

'I definitely miss home at times,' she says. 'I miss being able to see the ocean all the time and the sun and the warm weather.'

Geldenhuys' mother is a gymnastics coach for Swakopmund Gymnastics club and began teaching Geldenhuys gymnastics at the age of four.

'I enjoyed gymnastics the most,' she says. 'I also participated in roller hockey and track and field while I was growing up.'

Geldenhuys learned quickly, honing her skills wherever she could in Swakopmund, always with the goal of competing at the Olympic Games. The continent of Africa receives just one invitation to the Games, however, but in 2000, that invitation was extended to Geldenhuys. She was awarded a scholarship from the Olympic Solidarity developmental program to train and prepare for the Olympics anywhere in the world. A connection between her mother and local gymnastics coaches Jim and Hannah Holt landed Geldenhuys in Seattle to live, train and finish high school.

'Seattle was not a hard city to get used to living in,' says Geldenhuys. 'It was not at scary as I thought it would be and the people were much friendlier and more willing to help me than I thought they would be. The United States does not live up the image of being a mean country.'

Geldenhuys attended Roosevelt High School in Seattle, graduating with a 3.7 grade-point average. Once in Seattle, she began working with trained with current Husky assistant coach Frank Lee, then the coach at Cascade Elite Gymnastics Club. One year and weeks of hard work later, Geldenhuys placed 64th in the all-around with a score of 32.536 during the qualifying round at Sydney.

'The most exciting part about the Olympics was the opening ceremony,' says Geldenhuys. 'Most of the gymnasts were really nice and friendly. It was a fun atmosphere and a great experience.'

Geldenhuys had previous international experience from the 1997 and 1999 World Championships, as well as the 1998 Common-Law Games in Malaysia, an event she particularly enjoyed.

'The Common-Law Games was one of my first international meets and one of my favorites,' says Geldenhuys. 'It was not as big as the Olympics, but it had a more personal atmosphere than the Olympics.'

Geldenhuys chose to attend the University of Washington because of the way the fans treat Husky gymnasts like royalty.

'When we walk out on the mats at a home meet, the fans are overwhelming. I am proud to be a part of this team,' she says.

Washington's gymnastics team posted a 17-13-1 record during the 2001 season, with a third place finish at the Pac-10 Championships fifth place at the NCAA South Central Regional.

'One of the best parts about gymnastics is the feeling that comes over you when you beat the skill,' says Geldenhuys. 'It is great to be able to work through routine problems and not let them get the best of you.'

Hoping to major in sports psychology and one day become a physical therapist, the transition from high school to college was not as hard as Geldenhuys expected.

'The fact that I can balance everything from five hours of practice a day and homework just makes me more motivated to succeed at everything,' says Geldenhuys. 'I was scared of being able to cope, but it has made me a much more stronger person.'

In the 2002 season, Geldenhuys expects to play an important role in helping the Huskies succeed, but if she doesn't compete in every meet, she can be counted on to be one of the most vocal supporters.

'I think people expect so much more of me because I was in the Olympics,' says Geldenhuys. 'But I competed for a small country against the world's best. I would rather our team succeed than be able to compete at every meet.'

The Huskies' main goal is to take each meet one step at a time and not get too caught up in the postseason too early in the year. Geldenhuys sees much potential in Washington's 2002 gymnastics team and expects them to surprise the home crowds.

Geldenhuys is humble about her impressive accomplishments at such a young age. She is thankful for all of the opportunities that were given to her by coming to the United States.

The starry, starry nights of Namibia will have to wait for Geldenhuys. For now, competitive gynmastics takes the spotlight, under the glow of the Seattle rain dripping off the city's streetlights.

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