10.0 Spotlight - Niki Tom

March 26, 2009

Sophomore Niki Tom is the featured gymnast in 10.0 Spotlight, which profiles a member of the UCLA gymnastics squad throughout the season. Tom is a first-team All-Pac-10 performer on the balance beam, where she has captured three individual victories this season. She has posted a career-best of 9.9 on the event and also recorded a career-high 9.875 on floor this season. In 2007, she qualified for Level 10 Nationals for the first time in her career and placed fifth in the all-around.

Talk about your experience at Level 10 Nationals in 2007.
2007 was my senior year in high school and my final year competing in J.O., and I was determined to qualify for Level 10 Nationals in Ohio. Nationals was the first meet I competed in where the main focus was on the team. And I loved it! I have always been a huge fan of competition, but competing for/with five other girls is so much more rewarding than competing for yourself. There is no doubt that I was extremely excited and shocked to place fifth individually in the all-around at my first nationals and to have the best meet of my club career on that given day, but what was even more amazing was winning the team title. Our team consisted of three or four first-time qualifiers and only two veterans and came out with a win for Region 1!

You came to UCLA as a walk-on. Did you consider going to other schools on scholarship?
Ever since I was a little girl, I have always wanted to attend UCLA for both academic and athletic reasons. When I was younger, I told myself that even if I could not get a scholarship for gymnastics at UCLA, I would get accepted into the school academically and then somehow earn a position on the team. Not doing collegiate gymnastics was NOT an option. As college approached and before I met Miss Val, I knew I had to keep my options open and definitely considered looking at other schools where I could earn a scholarship. But after I met with Miss Val and she offered me a walk-on position, I could not pass up the opportunity to go to the most successful academic and athletic university in the world. I also knew I could earn a scholarship in the future, which has only driven me to prove myself. I had accomplished my dream of going to UCLA and being on the gymnastics team, now the new goal became to earn a scholarship. (I am now ready for goal # 3 - win a National Championship)

You've learned a lot of new skills since coming to UCLA. What skill are you most proud of learning? And how did you overcome your dislike of back tumbling on beam?
There are a few new skills that I have learned since being at UCLA that I am proud of. The first is my double pike on floor - I have always twisted, and this season is the first time I have competed it. The second skill is my back handspring, back-tuck kick open on beam (Chen). The third, and definitely the most fun, was learning how to do a double-twisting double layout dismount off bars over the summer! (Thanks to the coaching of Marci, Al, and Zuk!)

Even though beam is one of my favorite events, back tumbling is not one of my first choices when it comes to skills. The one main reason I overcame this dislike was Miss Val telling me, 'You have to put the tuck-open series in if you want to make the line-up.' And just like that it was officially in my routine. Don't get me wrong; I have definitely had my fair share of drills and bruises (just ask the girls), but what gymnast doesn't like battle wounds?! Shockingly, the Chen has become one of my new favorite skills to compete.

What would you say is your biggest attribute as a member of this team?
My dedication in and out of the gym. I try my hardest to lead by example.

What was your most memorable gymnastics moment?
My most memorable gymnastics moment actually just happened this past weekend at the Pac-10 Championships. The meet was extremely close throughout the entire competition, and we had not reached our potential on the first three events. Beam was our last rotation, and we knew we had to hit 6-for-6 routines to win. The pressure was on, and we were ready to win a Pac-10 Championship. One after another, each and every one of us hit clean routines. I have never felt so confident during a beam rotation in my life. The energy was out of this world, and there was a sense of reassurance and poise that let everyone watching know we were going to stick. Committing as a team to 'go big with no regrets' and watching everyone put their commitments into action was surreal. These are the moments the team lives for!

What was your best blooper moment in the gym or in competition?
Obviously every gymnast has numerous wedgie stories, but I think my best blooper moment would have to be in Level 8 while training on bars. I was doing a straddle back, and my coach had left a spotting block in-between the bars. He said I would be fine and would not kick it, so I went, and what do you know? I kicked it and ended up peeling off the high bar to completely miss both hands and catch the low bar with my neck, leaving me to do a baby giant around the bar with my neck and no hands. How I managed to catch the bar with my neck I do not know, but it was hilarious and probably my coaches' nightmare. The best part was that I went to school the next day, and people asked me, 'Is that a hickey?!' haha

What are your interests outside of gymnastics?
With the lack of spare time, I have not been able to really find any major interests outside of gym besides liking anything sports related. But I do know that after I am finished with gymnastics, I am really interested in traveling and going skydiving and bungee jumping.

What are you studying in school and what are your career aspirations?
I am currently a Physiological Sciences major. I am not quite sure what I'd like to do specifically, but I have always wanted to be involved in the medical/health field. I would love to do something related to nutrition or possibly radiology. I am hoping to do internships during my remaining summers so I can get a feel for what I'd like to focus on.

What has been your favorite class at UCLA so far and why?
My favorite class since I have been at UCLA is Social Welfare. The professor was amazingly entertaining and made a three-hour lecture seem like 30 minutes. Most of all, it was a nice break from my math and science courses. Every topic was extremely eye-opening and made you think about all of the things we take for granted. I have actually, just recently, been thinking of possibly looking into a Social Welfare minor.

What is your earliest memory of UCLA Gymnastics?
My earliest memory of UCLA Gymnastics is coming to all of the home meets with my mom, dad and sister, starting when I was about 10 years old (I just realized that for the past nine years I have had at least one type of UCLA Gymnastics poster hanging on my wall!). My family and I would go every Sunday, and every time I would sit and watch the girls in amazement. I probably could have sat there all day if my parents had not forced me to go home. I remember when my dad would stand in line with me at the end of the meets to get autographs and would tell me that I could compete on that same exact floor in Pauley some day. It is insane for me to think that my ultimate goal as a little girl has become a reality and that our team has that very same impact on so many young kids. Nothing is impossible, and I am truly living my dream.

Lightning Round
What is your guilty pleasure?
Twist/Yogurtland

Which movie can you watch over and over again without getting sick of it?
Wedding Crashers and SuperBad - 'BOOP!' (that one is for you Forte!)

All-time favorite gymnast?
Leah Homma

Favorite event to compete on?
Beam and floor

Something you can't live without
My Bunny from the Northridge earthquake, my sophomore class, and Chinese Chicken Salad

Describe yourself in one word.
Accountable

Describe your team in one word.
Tenacious

What quote or saying do you live by?
'The harder you work, the harder it is to surrender.' - Vince Lombardi

What is your internet home page?
UCLABruins.com

If you could trade places with any member of your team, who would it be and why?
Chris Manfred Waller. I would pay to be Chris for one day for multiple reasons: 1. His insane amount of energy/craziness, 2. His amazing dance skills that we're all jealous of, 3. He is the busiest man on Earth, and I have no idea how he does it all with so much enthusiasm 24/7.

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