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Gymnastics: from casual club to competitive team

By Curtis Zunyu He

Section: Sports

September 11, 2015

In the summer of 2012 before he came to Brandeis, Benjy Hechtman ’15, a fan of competitive gymnastics, hadn’t envisioned himself ever leading the club gymnastics team here. When Hechtman arrived at Brandeis, the club was purely recreational and practiced once a week. Now, the team competes at meets thanks to Hechtman’s efforts to

“It was definitely a goal of mine prior to even starting my first year [at Brandeis] to eventually revamp the club and give any Brandeis students interested in competing the opportunity to do so,” Hechtman said, who is ready to continue on the road to glory as the new semester begins.

Inspired by his younger sister, Hechtman started gymnastics at the age of 13, which is “actually a pretty late start for this sport,” he said. “After seeing her learning a bunch of cool skills I decided I wanted to be able to do those things, too. And after I started I just completely fell in love with the sport,” he said. His talent and potential for gymnastics were discovered during high school as he earned himself a position in the USA Gymnastics Junior Olympic program and actually made it to level 10, the highest level you can reach in the program. His passion for the sport followed him to Brandeis. “A huge part of my decision to come to Brandeis was the fact that they already had a gymnastics club,” he said.

However, back in 2012, the club was nowhere near the competitive scene, with little funding and no serious practices. Fortunately, Hechtman wasn’t knocked down by the disappointment, as his ambitious blueprint for the club won him the position of the president in his sophomore year. The club began skyrocketing toward Hechtman’s goal of bringing a team to the competitive stage.

He started with obtaining more funding to increase the number of practices to twice a week and also found additional open gym sessions at New England Sports Academy in Westwood, “a beautiful facility with all the equipment for both men’s and women’s events as well as a tumble track, foam pits and an in-ground trampoline” according to Hechtman. With more systematic and serious training, Brandeis gymnastics gradually found its way to become a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Gymnastics Clubs shortly after.

Hechtman didn’t stop there, as he then presented a formal proposal to the Club Sports Program at Brandeis. “It was a huge accomplishment for the team since this allowed us to start using Brandeis vans to get to practices as well as receive more funding and support from the Athletics department for us to start going to competitions,” explained by Hechtman.

Closer and closer to his dream, the day finally came when Brandeis gymnastics sent its first-ever team to a competition held at MIT in the spring of 2014. But the team wasn’t qualified for further competition due to lack of experience of competitive gymnastics. “We were still just first breaking into the competition scene and getting our feet wet,” Hechtman said. Then in the spring of 2015, things turned around for the team at the same MIT competition. Hechtman earned third place on the pommel horse and fourth place on parallel bars as well as all-around representing Brandeis. “This was a huge meet, and again the team did incredibly well given the little experience we had with collegiate meets,” Hechtman said.

The team finally marched on to their first-ever Collegiate Club Nationals in Philadelphia later in April with six athletes on the team. He again brought out his best as he placed 12th overall out of the 120 men competing in all the sessions combined. However, he separated his shoulder while competing on the rings during preliminaries and had to miss the finals. “But all in all, just the fact that Brandeis was able to send a team to nationals is still unbelievable to me,” he said. “Between the long van rides and living with each other for a week in a hotel, we all learned a lot more about one another and ended the week closer than ever” Hechtman said. “One of the most rewarding things I’ve witnessed during my time in the club has been watching the team evolve from a group of separate individuals who happen to practice together to a cohesive team of people who have become super close both in and out of the gym.” For Hechtman, the friendship with his teammates and the unbelievable progress of this club are the most precious things he discovered on the tough road.

As the new semester begins, Hechtman has already started his club planning. However, this year could cause problems for the program. “Since nationals are being held in California this year we are not entirely sure yet if we will have the funds to make such a trip. That being said, one of our immediate goals is to try to fundraise as much as we possibly can to make nationals 2016 a possibility for Brandeis gymnastics.” However, the good news is that “a handful of returners have come back to the gym and are psyched to get the competition scene running again.”

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