SPORTS BABE OF THE DAY COLLEGE EDITION PRESENTS: Samantha Peszek, Gymnast, UCLA @samanthapeszek
Samantha (Sam) Peszek can do it all. She competed for the US Women’s Senior National Gymnastics Team from 2007 to 2009, picking up a World Championship gold medal and a silver medal at the 2008 Olympic Games along the way. Even more impressive, she went to an average high school in her home state of Indiana all throughout that time! She’s not competing on the international stage nowadays, but you can find her at competing for UCLA (scoring a perfect ten once in a while!). Sam won the NCAA beam title in 2011, doing a standing full twisting back tuck which had never been done at the college level. She missed last season with an achilles injury, but has come back strong in 2014. We got a chance to catch up with Sam and ask her a few questions.
20 Questions with Samantha Peszek
1. When did you start doing gymnastics and what made you decide to stick with the sport?
I started gymnastics when I was two years old. My mom was a collegiate gymnast and my dad was a collegiate wrestler and hockey player, so naturally I was just an athletic kid. They put me in dance, gymnastics and soccer, but I stuck with gymnastics because I loved performing and competing even at a young age.
2. Were there any gymnasts you aspired to be like when you were growing up?
Yes! I was really inspired by the 1996 Olympic Gold medal team, “The Magnificent Seven.” I wanted to be just like them and that is when I first decided I wanted to go to the Olympics.
3. How old when you when you started elite gymnastics and how did you come to the decision to move up to that level?
I started elite gymnastics when I was twelve years old. There wasn’t an elite gymnast from my gym, so I was really naive about the whole process. I went to Championships not knowing that was how you made the national team and coincidentally, I became the youngest member of the national team that year. I loved the sport and elite gymnastics allowed me to challenge myself to learn harder skills and compete against the best in the world!
4. When you were a teenager, you went to a normal high school and trained for the Olympics at the same time! How did you manage your time, and who was your support system?
Yes, my parents always stressed the importance of education and wouldn’t allow me to homeschool (I was way too social for homeschool anyways haha). I was always on top of my school work and if I had to miss school for a trip, I would try to get assignments done ahead of time or bring work with me. Missing weeks of school was tough, but my family, and my coach, Peter Zhao, were my main support system at the time. I also made sure to participate in normal high school activities like football games, prom, etc and I think that really helped me keep a good balance in my life.
5. What comes to mind when you think back to the 2008 Olympics?
Hmmm…..Its hard to “sum it up” or even explain the feelings and emotions I experienced at the Olympics because it was so surreal for me. It was a dream come true to even make the team, but winning our team silver medal was absolutely amazing. It was also super cool to be in the Olympic Village, and be able to meet the best athletes in the world. Another highlight for me was just walking into the arena for the first time and seeing more American flags than Chinese flags, which really made me feel so honored to be part of such a great team representing the best country in the world!
6. When choosing a college to attend and compete for, what made UCLA stand out?
I looked at a bunch of different schools, but UCLA stood out to me because it set a high standard for academic and athletic excellence and I wanted to be part of a program that challenged me in such a way. The coaches, the city, and the weather were obviously big perks, but it really came down to education and the type of person I wanted to be when I graduate. You never really know if its the right decision until you go, but I still catch myself thinking, “I can’t believe I go here,” so I know its the perfect place for me.
7. Moving from Indiana to Los Angeles must have been a huge change! What was the biggest thing you had to adjust to when you came to LA?
Saying, “good morning” to strangers was apparently not the norm here, which was a little strange to me, but most of the other adjustments were pretty easy! The weather, the beach, and the fast paced city life were everything I was looking forward to in coming to LA.
8. Congratulations on your induction into the US Gymnastics Hall of Fame with the World Championship Team from 2007! How did it feel to be reunited with your teammates and get inducted into the HOF?
Thank you! It felt great to be reunited with the girls because it was the first time we had all been together since 2008. When you make history with a group of people, you will always have a special bond with them, so it was fun to reminisce and catch up on our lives now. The 2007 World Championship trip was probably my most fun experience internationally!We were a fiercely passionate team with tons of inside jokes, pictures, and experiences that were new to all of us! The gold medal definitely capitalized on all of our hard work and kept us hungry for future success.
9. What keeps you motivated throughout the season?
I stay motivated knowing that my teammates and I are going through season together. We’re never alone through the ups and downs and we keep each other going no matter what. It also helps to be part of a really fun team. We are probably the goofiest people on the planet, so there is never a dull moment. I am literally always laughing!
10. How do you want to be remembered as an athlete?
I want to be remembered for my work ethic and passion for the sport. Also, I was always inspired by Olympians growing up, so I hope I can pass it on by motivating other young athletes to believe in themselves and know they can do anything they set their mind to.
11. What’s your favorite spot on the UCLA campus?
I think my favorite spot is on top on Janss steps because it’s a really cool view over campus! Also, when life moves fast, it’s a good place to take a second to stop and think.
12. What do you want to do after you finish college?
I want to get my MBA and then definitely work in the sports field.
13. When you’re getting ready to go to a meet, what’s one thing you’ve always gotta pack?
I have to have my music, which is the biggest pre-meet necessity, but I also have to have my Buxom lipgloss.
14. We’ve gotta ask- are you single, dating, or locked down?
I’m single right now!
15. Other than gymnastics, what’s your favorite sport to watch and who’s your favorite athlete from that sport?
I’m just a big fan of sports in general, but I love football, hockey, and soccer the most. My athletic idol is Peyton Manning, so I was obviously a little heart broken after the Super Bowl. I got to meet him a few times and it is just so clear how much heart he has for his sport, which is one of the many reasons I look up to him. Sometimes I have dreams that I am an NFL quarterback; it’s weird!
16. How would your teammates describe you?
I think they would describe me as super competitive. I love to win. I’m also very goal-oriented, so I try to always keep our team motivated and focused on the end result.
17. What’s your favorite place to grab a bite to eat in LA?
I became obsessed with sushi when I moved out here, so Katsuya is definitely on my list of favorites!
18. What are your top three songs at the moment?
Beyoncé: Partition, Jason Derulo ft. 2 chainz: Talk Dirty, and Avicii: Hey Brother
19. If you got to go on a date with any celebrity you choose, who would you choose and where would you go?
Well….Since Eric Decker and Zach Parise are sadly taken, I guess I’ll go with Chase Crawford. We would either get dinner and see some live music or do something active like hiking!
20. Finally, who do you think should be our next sports babe of the day?
I think the next sports babe of the day should be Jordyn Wieber!
Make sure to follow Samantha on Twitter @samanthapeszek and check out UCLA gymnastics meets! A big thanks to Sam for being a great interview; we’re excited to see what’s in store for you !
(Feature by Mackenzie O’Brien, @maaacko on Twitter)