Cal Gymnast My-Lan Dodd Embraces the Spotlight ... Or Vice Versa?
April 8, 2003
Berkeley, Calif. - When a gymnast performs, all eyes in the house are solely focused on his or her routine. Every gyration and twist is scrupulously analyzed by the judges, as the members of not only your team, but the competition look on. You are the entertainment for the next minute and 30 seconds, and there is no way out of it whether you like it or not. With all of this individualized focus and attention, one might think that one would need to have ice running through their veins to be successful in this nerve-wracking kind of sport.
Well, think again.
My-Lan Dodd, one of Cal's most decorated gymnasts in the program's 29-year history, approaches the limelight with a hint of skepticism. Without an egocentric bone in her body, the native of Seattle, Wash. is a silent leader on and off the floor.
'I don't really like to be in the spotlight,' stated Dodd with a hint of bashfulness in her voice. 'I am generally a shy person and when I'm doing gymnastics I focus on each skill and each event and not on what's going on around me. That way, I never really feel like I'm in the spotlight.'
For someone who doesn't like the spotlight, Dodd sure isn't doing a lot to remain unnoticed. Entering this weekend's NCAA Regional Championships in Salt Lake City, Utah, she has let her actions do the talking. Through almost two seasons of competition, the sophomore sensation has established herself as one of the most complete gymnasts to ever don a Blue and Gold leotard ... all in an unassuming way. Whether she likes it or not, Dodd currently owns the Top 5 all-around scores in school history, while also claiming at least a share of the Top 5 in every individual event. But Dodd refuses to look at the numbers, instead focusing solely on the success of her team.
'I don't really think about advancing individually,' said Dodd. 'I just try to do my best at every meet and hope that the team does their best as well. I don't like to look at the scores, because it might give me a big head or something. If I feel good about my performances, that's enough for me.'
Growing up in Seattle, Dodd was exposed to the gym early on by her older sisters, Sharla, 22, and Athena, 25, who both competed at the recreational level. Wanting to follow in her older siblings' footsteps, a three-year-old Dodd took to the gym with a gleam in her eyes, making the rest a matter of history.
'My sisters would come home after practice and do flips all over the house,' said Dodd. 'Naturally, I wanted to be a part of it, so I got into it as well. But I was the only one to stick with it and actually compete, because my sisters lost interest after a while and started to do other sports.'
Thankfully for Cal, the 5-4 gymnast decided to stick with it. Dodd elevated quickly as a youngster, moving from Level 5 in fourth grade to the Elite Level - the highest level you can attain - by her sophomore year of high school. She quickly caught the nation's attention, qualifying for the U.S. Junior National Team in 1998 and the Senior National Teams in 1999-2000. But in a sport where you peak at a younger age than in any other, Dodd had reached the pinnacle of her career by her sophomore year of high school. Or did she?
As a freshman at Cal, Dodd didn't skip a beat, proving that she was still on the fast track to greatness. She quickly assumed the role of superstar, tallying a school-record all-around mark at the 2002 NCAA Regionals while recording Top 5 all-time scores on beam and bars. On a team full of upperclassmen, Dodd was the only member of the squad to qualify for regionals, a feat overlooked by the bashful Washingtonian.
'You just build throughout the year and hope to peak near the end of the season, and that's what I did,' said Dodd. 'Your goal is to constantly improve, achieve consistency and gain confidence, and with that, the scores should come. By this point, you hopefully have stopped worrying about falling and started worrying about the little things like sticking the landing and hitting handstands.'
Well, Dodd has been doing plenty of sticking and hitting in 2003. After suffering a rocky start through the early season competitions, she became a model of consistency that even her teammates had to admire. Her scores constantly improved as the season progressed, leaving her with at least a top three school score in every event. In addition, Dodd has obliterated every one of her personal best marks this year, while finishing in the Top 5 of every regular season meet, including four first-place finishes (at Cal Invitational, vs. Washington, vs. Arizona & at UC Davis). But what's next for the California gymnast?
While the 2003 NCAA Regionals are fresh on her mind, Dodd knows all too well that life will go on when her Cal career is over. An intended development studies major, Dodd plans to take on the 'real' world like she has taken to the gym ... as a silent leader.
'When I am done here at Cal, I want to apply my studies abroad,' said Dodd. 'I've never been out of North America, so I really want to get out and see the world. Right now in my studies, I am learning about how the world works with things like history, politics and economics. So, I want to go out and see how people in other cultures live and develop, and find out what they are doing in their lives and what international factors are making them live the way that they do.'
The Cal women's gymnastics program has two more years left with Dodd, but if her success in the gym translates into the 'real' world, watch out.