Spring Fever

DU gymnast Heather Huffaker jumps to impressive conclusions.

For competitors, though, there's a lifetime of difference. Sometime in their early teens, top-ranked girls make the decision whether or not to peel off from the real world of boyfriends and SATs and proms and enter the hermetic life of an elite gymnast, where they start hammering their bodies with the forty-to-sixty-hour-a-week training programs demanded by budding Olympians.

Even then, the odds are astronomically small and, to a large degree, dictated by birthdate. Only seven young women can be on a given Olympic gymnastics team. If a young gymnast is fifteen years old for one and nineteen for the next, she may simply have missed the boat.

Huffaker made her own choice at about fifteen. "A lot of times when people go elite, they end up not going to public school, which I really wanted to do," she says. "And when I got older, I really wanted to go to college, too." Treviño says there's no doubt she could have taken aim at the Olympics and had a realistic shot. But a full-ride college scholarship isn't bad, either.

Heather Huffaker is passionate about the vault.
Mark Manger
Heather Huffaker is passionate about the vault.

To a college gymnastics coach, a vaulting routine is like a dowry -- a gift that comes with the girl. The vast majority of competitive vaulters decide very early on what their move will be; with few exceptions, they stick with it for the remainder of their careers.

Treviño says Huffaker started laying the groundwork for her signature vault early in her freshman year of high school; by her junior year, she'd nailed it. She's been fine-tuning it ever since.

Called a "quarter-on layout with a full," it involves running down the approach, performing a cartwheel, landing onto the springboard on her feet, pushing off the table with her hands (the vaulting "horse" was mostly discontinued about four years ago, replaced with an angled, padded platform) and flipping in a layout a full 360 degrees while also twisting 360 degrees. And finally, of course, landing straight up on her feet.

A perfect vault is rare. Last year, however, Huffaker completed one -- only the second time in DU's history that a vaulter had performed without a mistake. Most years, such an accomplishment would have put her head and shoulders above her teammates. But the current team has yielded several peers.

In 2001, DU finished the year ranked twelfth in the country -- its best ever -- and became the first small private school to make it to the NCAA Division I gymnastics finals. This year the team, which has only one senior, has climbed as high as ninth in the rankings.

Spring has arrived.

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