April 13, 2012
STANFORD, Calif. - One of the strengths of the Stanford women's gymnastics program is its senior leadership and Jenny Peter has been a huge reason why. It's hard to imagine Stanford gymnastics without Jenny. Though she has been limited the past two years by injuries, Peter remains the lifeblood of a program that plans on surprising people at the NCAA Championships, which begin Friday, April 20, in Duluth, Ga.
Peter's last NCAA appearance was a memorable one, sticking an uneven bars routine that essentially propelled Stanford into the 2010 Super Six final in Gainesville, Fla. This year, the Lincoln, Neb., native continues to prepare herself on bars if called upon as she heads into the final meet of her career.
In this interview, Peter talked about her career, what it means to grow up in Nebraska, and the Cardinal's chances at the NCAA's:
Q: Did the Pac-12 meet -- where the team led for most of the way before finishing fourth -- inspire, motivate, or discourage the team?
A: It's another day in the gym, honestly. We knew we had it in us to hit three events strong, and if we had done our regular on bars -- not even our best - we would have blown every team out of the water. It was inspiring and encouraging for ourselves, but it also was something we do every day in the gym, so we weren't surprised by how well we were doing.
If anything, we were surprised going into our fourth event when we allowed ourselves some time to reflect. Oh, wow! We're ahead in this thing. Rather than just going with the flow, we stopped. For our next meet, our mind set is keep with it, keep with the flow, and everything will fall into place. We have full confidence in that, because we are the sleeping giant team. We are the team that was going to surprise everyone. Nationals are when it matters, the last day of the year. Who's the strongest team standing? We believe that we are.
Q: Personally, it's been up and down season for you, trying to get a foothold in the lineup. How have you dealt with it all?
A: I would definitely say I had a lot of fire in me in trying to get into the bar lineup after being out for so long. But then, we have a great team and you have to fight for those spots. I've always had the heart this year. I'll continue to push and continue to fight for my spot in the lineup. But at the same time, I'm also still battling the same injuries that I had. I realize that gymnastically, you want to contribute as much as you can and I will always do so. But at the same time, I've found my niche outside gymnastics, which has been a total blessing because SWG is so much bigger than just me.
That's been a huge lesson as a senior, to understand leadership, first and foremost, and set an example in practice and in the gym. I'm using my words, too, for the team, and I find joy in that I am encouraging others and helping the team with what I can say and what I can give in those intangible ways, that it definitely eases the load a little bit.
Q: Are you training on floor, or just bars?
A: Just bars now. It's been going really well. I was injured the last couple meets, but I'm back to it. So, I'll be there at nationals.
Q: Two years ago at nationals, you had a great bars performance in Florida. Has that been the highlight of your Stanford career?
A: I would say so. I'd say gymnastics highlight, yes, but it was more of the process of getting back after injury after injury. Even that year, in postseason, I was in three lineups ready to go and landed short on vault and, Bam, I'm limited to bars. Then I had to rehab and get myself back. I made it into the lineup in late February and just stayed there.
I've been consistent. I don't think I've ever fallen in a meet before on bars. In an exhibition I've fallen, but I don't think ever actually fallen competition wise. So, I know that my role gymnastically is consistency. That's something I've been proud of over four years, is saying that I know, if I'm healthy, I can rise to the occasion no matter what the situation is.
Q: You have a year of eligibility left if you want to use it. Are you planning to?
A: I'm planning on not using it, actually. It's not a done deal, because I will be around here getting my master's in communications studies with an emphasis on human computer interaction, and I'll finish that in March. I'm really excited. I've already started that program. It's been a huge thing to look forward to for the future, but I'm going to miss this team so much. I'm going to be in the gym. I'm probably going to be helping out, whether in the gym in the mats or on the other side of things.
The thesis of my master's program is on recruiting in NCAA athletics and how you can use social media tools to help that. For instance, when I was going through the recruiting process, I saw a video from (then gymnast) Tenaya West. It was posted on YouTube. It showed behind the scenes and the fun they had in the locker room as well as how they performed gymnastically.
I remember getting off the phone with University of Nebraska. It was the sixth or seventh scholarship I had turned down. I thought, `Why am I doing this? This is a lot of money. These are great opportunities.' And my dad showed me this video that `T' made. And he was like, `This is why.'
I saw it and I saw the joy on the girls' faces. It was the gymnastics, it was the school, it was the camaraderie. It was all the above. I realized, `This is why I'm going to Stanford, this is why I'm holding out for them. (At the time, I was waiting to see if I got accepted.) This is why I'm walking on to a team like this, because there's nothing like it.'
Q: Have you told Tenaya that story?
A: I don't think so. I should.
Q: That's pretty risky, turning down offers, especially from your hometown school that, I'm sure, you supported as a family.
A: All of us love Nebraska, for sure. But Stanford's where I was supposed to go.
Q: And then a year later, the whole team was coming to your house for dinner when the NCAA's were held in your hometown.
A: Yeah, seriously, it was great. And then next year, with a full ride, I never looked back. It's been a great four years. I'm so happy to be here.
Q: It seems like you have a good idea of where your niche might be for the future?
A: Yeah, I'm still getting there. Deciding to do the master's program has helped. I've also taken a lot of MS&E classes - management science and engineering - and realized that the media side of things is always interesting to me. That's why in my co-term I'm hoping to learn more, even in video production work.
Q: You helped organize, as the assistant program director, a start-up education program supporting high school students in the Virgin Islands last summer.
A: Definitely my passion is planning and program planning. In setting up each program, you get to be on one side of things and step into the classroom and get to be with the kids and teach and learn. I like to kind of straddle that line.
Whatever God has in his plans for my future, I'm sure it will be great. I'd love to be in the action, which is why I decided not to do specifically journalism. It's because I wanted to be on the other side of the fence, I wanted to be more into the action, I wanted to be the person the story's going to be written about. I'm kind of finding that balance between the two.
Q: Would you like to find a way you can help people in some way?
A: Definitely. I definitely have a heart for serving, for sure, especially because my faith is really important to me. Next year, another reason I'm staying around is a group of us last summer started a Christian athlete Bible study. There were 25 of us at the beginning and it got to about 150-160. Now, it's not just for athletes, but for others as well. I'm pretty involved with that. We meet once a month. That's been great, helping with meetings and finding that niche of athletes, Christians, Stanford. These are the people who are basically my friend groups and who I really connect with outside of my team. So, it's a huge pull to keep me around Stanford for another year.
Q: With the recent passing of Stanford volleyball player Sam Wopat, and some of your teammates very close to her, do you deal with her situation as a team?
A: What's unique to this team is we're all friends and we're all teammates at the same time. For instance, the morning after we found out, as a team we decided to take a walk rather than go practice. It was great to support our teammates in that way. We just walked around campus and spent time with each other. And then we had a counselor come in and talk to us about how to handle grief.
The really cool moment happened after all that was done, when it was just our team together in the conference room, when we said we're here to support you 100 percent emotionally right now, but at the same time you can draw strength from these 13 girls, and we have a mission to accomplish the next four weeks. This is your happy place, when you come to the gym and do your thing. So, it's been really cool to find that balance and to help our teammates through a difficult time.
Q: How has your Midwestern upbringing influenced you and how you have evolved since you've been here?
A: I'd say as much as I'd hope that I've become more of a California girl, I'm a Nebraska girl at heart. People always joke and say you'll forever be the Midwestern prom queen, you'll forever be that type of girl. I don't even know what that means, but I do know that just being people-oriented is something I'll forever take with me. It's about making my teammates my priority, and the relationships.
It's almost like, in Nebraska, you don't have those cool places to go. It's not so much about what you do, but who you're with, and it's very similar to my mindset here at Stanford, whether it be teammates, relationships outside the gym, whatever. Growing up in Nebraska was incredible, but I don't know if I'll go back, just because I love California and I love what there is to offer. But Nebraska will always be close to my heart.
Q: You have nationals coming up, and you mentioned that people haven't seen the team peak yet. You haven't showed people what you're capable of.
A: All true. We're not just saying that to be saying it -- it's coming, it's really coming. We're going to hit 197 and people are going to say, `Where did Stanford come from?' But, we planned that. Since Day One of competition we decided we're going to build, we're going to add people to the lineups, and mentally and physically, we're going to be exactly where we need to be for NCAA's. And that's exactly what's happened.
Q: There's a definite a contrast to the way you finished last season (with a disappointing fourth-place in regionals) and the way you're approaching the end of this season, by improving each week.
A: Last year was great because it got us going, it got the ball rolling early for this season. I remember all three of us seniors sat down in spring, before conditioning even started, and decided what we want to accomplish this year, and what needs to happen. It was great to keep it rolling until the last day of the year rather than getting burnt out. My classmates, Alyssa (Brown) and Peach (Nicole Pechanec), have never been closer. One of the coolest things about my senior year is having those relationships, and working so well together where we're all on the same page. And knowing that after NCAA's is over these are girls I'll forever be connected with.
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics