Giving Back In Tough Times
Zach Boone stepped inside the Golden Bear Recreation Center in early January of 2005. His first time on campus – and in the Bay Area – Boone examined the California men's gymnastics practice taking place, suitcase in hand with all of his belongings.
As each Golden Bear extended a hand and introduced themselves to the new member of the squad, then-head coach Barry Weiner formally introduced Boone to his new teammates and asked his Bears a simple question, "Who's got a spare bed for Zach tonight?"
His teammates stepped up, offered him a place to stay and welcomed him into the Cal gymnastics family. Fast forward to 2020 and, amidst the tumultuous year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Boone is doing what he can to say thank you to his coaches and the program for giving him a chance 15 years ago by investing in the program with a contribution of $25,000.
"I'd like my gift to be a way to say thank you to Barry and Aaron for giving me the opportunity, and I want to do my part to keep this program alive," Boone said. "A big motivation for me is the fact that collegiate men's gymnastics is an endangered species. I want to make sure that we don't lose Cal men's gymnastics. I want to make sure that Cal gymnastics will be around for my kids and grandkids."
Boone's gift is the largest single-year contribution since JT Okada has been the head coach. With all the difficulties regarding fundraising due to the pandemic, Boone's investment, along with another generous gift of $15,000 given to the program by Boone's mother, Okada was overjoyed as they will greatly help the program during these uncertain times.
"With these gifts, it's nearly negated the deficit we were expecting, as far as fundraising this year," Okada said. "This is incredible. Not only is this the largest single contribution since I've been head coach, but it's also from one of our younger alumni. It goes beyond the monetary amount. That's huge, but it's encouraging that a young alumni is giving back to the program already. He only graduated 12 years ago, and in that time, he's done well enough and valued his experience enough to give this big amount."
Originally concluding his gymnastics career in the eighth grade due to injuries, Boone unexpectedly rekindled his passion for the sport while living in Central America.
After spending his freshman year of college at Boston College, Boone took a year off from school and spent a year living in Costa Rica. While exploring the area, he found a gym that featured a couple of talented gymnasts in training, as well as an indigenous Costa Rican man in his 70s who particularly inspired Boone to return to the mats himself.
"This cool cat chalked up, hopped onto the high bar, swung a couple giants and did a leisurely fly away. It was so cool. That made me want to do gymnastics again. It awoke this deep yearning that made me dream about gymnastics for all of those years."
Upon returning to the United States, Boone realized he had some unfinished business with gymnastics. He contacted his former coach, Kevin McMurchie, and he suggested Boone create an audition video and send it around to collegiate programs. Boone sent one to Cal, Weiner reached out to Boone and the rest is history.
Despite only being listed as a letterman for one season, Boone's tenure on the gymnastics team and his time at Cal created a positive impact for the rest of his life. Boone credits the friendships he made with his teammates towards instilling his love for his alma mater. He met his wife, Thuy, at Cal as did his friends/teammates, and they remain close today after they all got married and started their own families. Boone and Thuy live in the Bay Area in San Jose where Boone works as a software engineer, a career he found thanks to his connections within the Cal gymnastics community.
"I felt a responsibility to give back to an institution that gave me so much and supported me in becoming the person that I am today," Boone said. "I met my wife because of Cal gymnastics. I have two beautiful children thanks to Cal gymnastics. Barry Weiner and Aaron Floyd took a big chance on me that enabled me to get where I am today. I was an out-of-shape nobody who had not performed competitive gymnastics in several years and they gave me a chance. I feel indebted to Barry and Aaron for giving me the opportunity to be a member of the Cal gymnastics team."