Friday Feature: Emily Stebbins

Some kids dream of competing with Olympians in their sport. One San Jose State athlete had that opportunity when she was in her early teens. Spartan gymnast Emily Stebbins competed in the same arena with future gymnastic Olympians and trained with three-time Olympian Amy Chow in San Jose.

Stebbins started in gymnastics at age four when her parents enrolled her in day camp classes where you basically ran around to use up energy. She admits that she had lots of energy when she was younger.

“I ran around and jumped off things when I was little,” said Stebbins. “I started my gymnastics competition at Santa Cruz Gymnastics.”

Her talent did not go unnoticed, even at a young age. At one of her competitions, Diane Amos, a coach from West Valley Gymnastics in San Jose, noticed Stebbins’ talent. Amos offered her a spot at West Valley to train seriously where three-time Olympian Amy Chow was also training.

“Diane asked if I wanted to come take training seriously at West Valley. That is the point where I really got started in gymnastics. I did TOPS, Talented Opportunity Program, from age 8 to 11. From there, I excelled through the program. The program tests you to see if you have ability to reach the elite level. I took the progressive steps and started training to become an elite.”

Stebbins started competing as an elite at age 13. However, there are not many elite competitions, so she competed at Level 10 but with others who were in the same situation. Stebbins’ first real elite competitions came in 2000 when she competed in the American Classics. She finished 13th in the all-around at the 2000 Junior International Competition of the U.S. Classic which qualified her for the U.S. Gymnastics Championships.

At the 2000 John Hancock U.S. Gymnastics Championships, Stebbins finished 22nd in the junior division. Her experience at the championships were much different that other competitions, especially since she had to compete for two days.

“I had a great experience at the championships. Growing up, you watch all of these gymnasts competing at the Olympics. Because I trained with Amy, I didn’t realize how big she is until you see her in this type of competition or when you are hanging out with Shannon Miller, Dominique Moceanu, Vanessa Atler and Elise Ray.

“As far as the competition, it was very nerve wracking. I was very nervous, but I was also very young and competed in the Junior Division. I did really well and stayed on all the events. The nerves got to me on the second day, and I kind of hurt myself at the very end. It is a two-day competition, and I was not used to that. That was the first time I experienced two days of competition.”

Training was tough for Stebbins. Her daily life consisted of weight training, school until noon and then two more sessions of gymnastics training before homework and sleep. She did this six days a week and had only Sundays off.

“Training was hard work. You really don’t have a life. All of your focus goes into that one area. I didn’t have any friends in school because I was never there. There was no social life. I had Sundays off, but all I did was sleep, eat and relax. There was a lot of wear and tear on the body.”

Time in the gym could also be lonely for Stebbins, especially since she was training as an elite gymnast and spending a lot of time by herself perfecting her different moves.

“When you are elite, you basically train by yourself. I would train with Amy too, but then we would be split up. She would go to bars, and I would go to beam. In the gym, all the Level 10 gymnasts would be together having a great time and talking with their friends. We weren’t really allowed to talk. We would talk, but you spend most of your time focusing on your routines. It was important to do consistent routine and get really hard tricks. We were constantly working, working, working.”

However, the stress of the daily grind of elite gymnastics and the frustration were wearing on Stebbins. She made choice at age 15 to give up gymnastics and concentrate on other things in her life.

“I was just frustrated with the day-to-day routine, and it was wearing on me. I was stressed out and constantly working to get better all the time. The skills were so difficult that they were scary to me. I would take the necessary steps to progress, but I was afraid of crashing, hurting myself, not doing well, became somewhat superstitious. I was coming frustrated every day. It wasn’t fun anymore. I didn’t have friends or time with my family.

It was a good experience. I don’t regret any of it. My coaches made it easy for me too. Diane was my best friend. She made me work hard, but she helped me through a lot of things.”

After gymnastics, Stebbins found she loved dancing and performing. She wanted to keep in shape and tried all different types of dance ballet, contemporary, hip hop. She found she loved one type more than others.

“Contemporary ballet is my favorite. I tried everything and found I loved dancing. That is the reason I am a dance major at San Jose State.”

Stebbins’ life almost took a different turn after high school when she tried out for Juliard. She auditioned in San Francisco and made all seven cuts but came up just short because she did not have enough experience in the dance world.

“I made all seven cuts and got letters and calls from them. However, I didn’t know anyone in the dance world, so I didn’t have any letters of recommendations from dance instructors, just from gymnastics coaches. I missed by a very small margin and was told to audition for the next year.”

However, her love of dance gave her a drive to learn as much as possible about the discipline and to help others learn about dance. She wants to eventually earn a master’s degree in dance and become a professor of dance. After graduation, Stebbins wants to try out with many companies and keep performing.

“I want to get as much information as possible about dance from as many people as possible. Dance is a very open subject, and people have many different views. To absorb that information from all the different dances, I feel that makes you more intelligent, stronger and have a wordly view.”

Dance is also what helped lead Stebbins back to San Jose State. She is a dance instructor at International Gymnastics Camp in Pennsylvania. Each summer, the staff shows off their talents to the campers. Stebbins decided to show the campers another side of herself and started practicing gymnastics again.

“At IGC, I am the dance director and no one expects me to do gymnastics. I started training again and realized how much I could still do after seven years off. Somebody said I could be a college gymnast and still had the skills. My coach Diane said I was good enough to go Division I and could go to San Jose. It was a good fit because I could be near my family. Plus, my dad works here.”

So, after seven years away from gymnastics, Stebbins brought her talent to San Jose State this season and did not disappoint Spartan fans with her routines on beam and floor. A first team All-Western Athletic Conference honoree on floor, she is the only San Jose State gymnast to record a 9.90 this season, and she did it twice on floor. Ironically, floor is Stebbins favorite apparatus to perform on in competition.

“It was incredible getting a 9.90 at the WAC Championships. If you don’t give them deductions, the judges cannot take away points. It was an amazing experience especially since I like performing on floor the best because you can express your self. Plus, I get to dance and perform. I always try to do as much entertaining the spectators while performing on floor.”

Stebbins has enjoyed her time at San Jose State and the success that Spartans have achieved this season.

“This experience has been a blast. I have enjoyed training and accomplishing goals each and every day. I was never really part of a team growing up and wanted to get a sense of teamwork and the rewarding experience of winning.”

Past 2007-08 Friday Features
August 24 - Jackie Zabek, Women's Soccer
August 31 - Ed Brand, Men's Soccer
September 7 - Keri Anglin, Volleyball
September 21 - Jennifer Senftleben, Volleyball
September 28 - Jacob French, Football
October 19 - Erica Sahli, Women's Cross Country
November 9 - Dominique Hunsucker, Football
November 16 - Juliet Moss, Water Polo
November 23 - John Booker, Football
November 30 - Justin Graham, Men's Basketball
December 7 - Freshmen, Swimming & Diving
January 11 - Myosha Barnes, Women's Basketball
January 18 - Nikki Chapman, Swimming
January 25 - DeVonte Thomas, Men's Basketball
February 8 - Cassandra Borjon, Women's Tennis
February 22 - Kimberly Punyasavatsut, Women's Golf
February 29 - Lance Holloway, Men's Basketball
March 7 - Brittany Imaku, Women's Basketball

March 28 - Brittany McConnell, Softball

April 4 - Sonny Garza, Baseball

April 11 - Emily Stebbins, Women's Gymnastics