Between The Bars

Dec. 9, 2005

My name is Ariana Berlin, and for as long as I can remember, throughout my gymnastics career, it was my dream to compete gymnastics for UCLA. My story of how I reached this dream is still, to this day, hard even for me to believe.

I started gymnastics at age three and ever since fifth grade was commuting from San Diego to gyms over an hour away. At age 14, I was training for elite and was about to test the week after Thanksgiving when that weekend I woke up in a hospital. My mom and I had gotten into a horrible car accident. After being in a medically-induced coma for five days, I woke up with two broken legs, a broken wrist, two cracked ribs, a broken collarbone and chest tubes sticking out of both sides of my chest because both of my lungs had collapsed. I wasn't sure what was going to happen to me. One of my first thoughts was ... Can I still do gymnastics? Was the only school I had EVER wanted to go to now out of my reach? After a year of recovering, I decided to try going back to gymnastics. I was so disappointed when I realized that my leg pain wouldn't allow me to continue in the sport I loved. I had to make the hardest decision of my life, to give up gymnastics after 11 years of training. And so ... I quit.

A few months before the car accident, I had found yet another passion, dancing. I had started taking dance classes anytime I could, whether it was rushing home after gym to catch a class or taking as many classes possible on the weekends. After I quit gymnastics, I turned to the only other thing I could physically do and really enjoyed ... Dance. I was taking classes at Culture Shock in San Diego, so I tried out for and made it on the 17-and- under hip-hop troupe, Future Shock. A year later, at age 15, I tried out and made it on the older troupe (18-and-over), Culture Shock. I am so thankful for being able to be a part of such a great group of people! I can't even explain how much I have learned from every one of them. I learned a lot of great life lessons because I was a part of a group of people that came from all different walks of life. They ranged from age 15 (me, the youngest) to people in their late 20's and early 30's. We were all really different, but that never got in the way of us getting along, caring deeply for each other and coming together to dance. I've heard the saying before of people 'respecting and celebrating their differences'. That's the lesson I learned the most from being a part of Culture Shock.

Culture Shock performs a lot in and around San Diego. The summer of my freshman year, we were hired as a troupe to do a summer show at Sea World that coincidentally was being choreographed by Miss Val. I went through the whole summer without even thinking of wanting to go back to gymnastics. I truly had moved on from that chapter of my life. When we, Culture Shock, returned to Sea World the next summer, I started thinking about gymnastics again. I got to know Miss Val a lot more and saw what a great, hilarious, and fun person she was. After watching the gymnasts in the show tumbling on the tumble track, I remember being shocked to realize that I really did miss gymnastics. That night, I asked my dad what I should do with all of these feelings inside me. I told him how badly I wanted to just take the long-shot risk and ask Miss Val if she would allow me to be coached by her and be on my Dream Team. So the last night of rehearsals, I asked to talk with her. I told her about my dream, my accident, and my unfinished chapter in gymnastics. I asked if I could try out to walk on her team. I promised to go back to the gym the next day to see if my leg would allow me to do the sport again. I remember her exact response - 'I see what a great work ethic you have and how much respect you show Sherman (Culture Shock Director), and I would take you on our team just for that.' That week I went back to gymnastics, and look where I turned up? ON THE 2005-2006 UCLA GYMNASTICS TEAM! Who would have thought?

My experience on this team is priceless, literally. I love all my teammates unconditionally, not to mention my coaches, Miss Val, Chris and Marshall. But I will always have that special connection with my 'soul sista' Miss Val, or as I call her 'Flo.' (That's a whole other story.) For now, I am so thankful that I am actually living my dream.

Ariana Berlin

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