University of Kentucky gymnast Jenny Hansen won the NCAA all-around title three times in the mid-90s. Now she's back training, at age 38, with hopes of making the 2012 Olympic team. Here's what Hansen had to say about her return to the sport:
What have you been up to since your NCAA career ended in 1996? Have you ever fully retired from gymnastics?
I've had a great, wonderful and exciting life since '96. I got into live show entertainment at Sea World and Walt Disney World. I've also been a farmer/rancher and I've worked on a 8-mile oil pipeline which included working with heavy equipment. I've coached and now do stunt work in L.A.
I've taken breaks from gymnastics but it's always been a part of my life throughout the years.
What made you decide to start training full time?
I got my big break on ABC Family's Make It or Break It. They needed gymnasts and so I started to train, which was hard because I lived in North Dakota at the time and to get to a gym center was two hours round trip. But I've always wanted to do stuntwork and so I was going to do anything I could to get on this show.
Bela Karolyi guest-starred on the season finale and told me I should seriously consider trying out for the National Team. That's when I decided to start training and start scratching that itch to see if I could really accomplish something only a few do every four years.
What's your training schedule like right now?
At the beginning of this year, I was coaching myself and my sister would fly to my meets to be my coach. It was extremely helpful to have her to assist me (with setting my board, etc.) but the best thing was just having her there for moral support.
[I've been training] at Platinum Gymnastics. About three months ago, Ariana Berlin, a friend I met on the show, suggested I contact Randy Lane, the assistant coach for UCLA. This was a huge blessing! Under his guidance, I've improved tremendously. He is so positive and has such a great eye for gymnastics.
What was your first meet back like?
My first meet back was a level 10 meet. I didn't do as well as I hoped but the important thing was that I had so much fun and had a great support group come cheer me on. I was a little nervous because the last time I competed was in '96. But it was such a valuable experience because I needed to be in that competitive environment again. (Watch video from that meet.)
What are your ultimate goals for this comeback?
My ultimate goal would be to make the Olympics but I really want to remind everyone the sport brings so many opportunities. I want to inspire people and show there can be longevity in gymnastics. It should be fun regardless if you compete internationally or just learn a back tuck again. Staying healthy is also one of my top priorities.
What's been the hardest part of returning to the sport?
I think adjusting to listening to my body at all times and not pushing myself to the point that I can't genuinely enjoy it. I love flipping and awing people around me. God has giving me an amazing gift to be able to continue this sport with such intensity.
Which skill came back the quickest? Which was the hardest?
Good question! Ironically, the skills I've never done were easier to do- like Arabian double fronts. It sounds odd, but because I'd never done them before I didn't have any bad habits to break and I could visualize the trick in my head. Cast handstands on bars were one of the hardest things to get back. Also, round-off entry vaults and handspring vaults. It's been hard to change from the horse to the table.
What skills are you hoping to add?
I can't even mention all the ones I hope to obtain. The level of gymnastics is crazy now but I look at older videos and the skills are actually similar. Now there are just more combos and skills being done in a given routine.
What kind of conditioning do you do?
No real special conditioning as of right now. The great thing about being an older gymnast is you get to call your own shots. My recovery time is so different than it was before, so if my body tells me it needs to rest, I will train lighter. Some days I will swim, run on the treadmill or at the beach or just jump trampoline. The least impact possible is better for me.
Are there any advantages to being an older gymnast?
Yes, I get to discuss my workout with my coach and give my input. I have a stronger sense of how to [make] corrections from Randy and make a conscious effort to make every repetition count. If my body needs the rest I remind myself there's always another practice to get that new skill.
Follow Jenny's progress on Twitter and on Facebook.