Jan. 17, 2013
STANFORD, Calif. -
Each Thursday, GoStanford.com presents an interview between a former Stanford gymnast and team manager Tori Lewis. This week, Tori interviews Sarah Harding Traverso. The following is Tori's conversation with Sarah:
Tori: Can you catch everyone on up on what you've been doing since you graduated from Stanford?
Sarah: I worked briefly for the Undergraduate Research Program and I helped with the campaign for undergraduate education. I then pursued an acrobatic career, thanks to the suggestion of [women's gymnastics head coach] Kristen [Smyth] actually. I talked to her about what would be a fun and exciting career path and I eventually decided to try performing. So I went ahead and auditioned for Cirque du Soleil and I auditioned for Tokyo Disney. I ended up getting both gigs, which was pretty cool.
I started out actually in Sea World. I did not swim with the dolphins, by the way! I moved down to San Diego and I performed. That was actually my first introduction to circus arts and it was a lot of dance and gymnastics. Actually, Valerie Kondos Field, the UCLA Women's Gymnastics coach, choreographed that summer show. She was looking for gymnasts and so I went ahead and performed the summer of 2002.
I graduated in 2000. Then I co-termed in '01. I started performing for Sea World the summer of '02. Then I went to Tokyo Disney in '03 and was the Little Mermaid for seven months, which was pretty fun. Everything was in Japanese and the songs were in English. We, thankfully, got to lip synch songs.
While I was in Japan, I heard from Cirque du Soleil because I had auditioned before I left for Japan. I was part of the original cast for KA, which is still running. I got to be an original cast member and help create a Cirque du Soleil show, which is contracted for 10 years.
So I went to Montreal in the dead of winter, which is quite cold. Coming from Hawaii, it was very, very chilly.
Then I moved to Vegas and I lived in Vegas for six years. I got married and have since had three kids. We had our first child, Emma, who is now four, in Henderson, Nev.
We moved back to the Bay Area in 2010 and I gave birth to twin girls, Josie and Elizabeth, who are now 18 months in June of 2011.
On top of all of this, somehow, I run my own business and I teach Pilates. I'm a certified Pilates instructor and I teach a program for parents who want to work out in the company of their children. I focus on spinal alignment, proper posture, and improving core strength.
Oh, and another thing that I did along the way, is I competed in fitness contests and I won Miss Fitness USA in 2004 and 2006.
I wish they had taught me how to juggle, because that would be a very useful skill right now!
Tori: How did you like all that traveling?
Sarah: It was great! It was a lot of relocating and once we were there, we were there. I spent about six months in San Diego, seven months in Tokyo, six months in Montreal, and then six years in Vegas.
I'm originally from Hawaii, so I absolutely love the different cultures that I got to experience. There's a lot of Asian influence in Hawaii so I already knew some Japanese. My major at Stanford was Asian Studies and I studied Chinese History and Modern Culture, so I knew some Mandarin. That's my formal training, although I wish I could remember it now! I have enrolled Emma in bilingual Chinese-English preschool, which is pretty cool to hear her pick up Mandarin.
I just loved the cultural experiences in all the places I lived. That was one of the coolest aspects of working with Cirque du Soleil - all the different languages you heard backstage, and the different countries that all of the acrobats came from. So you were hearing, at any given time, at least five different languages.
I was able to apply for an undergraduate research opportunity while at Stanford and traveled during the summer of '99 and write my honors thesis on the Chinese gymnasts, on what education they get and what sacrifices they make to become professional gymnasts at age nine. So that was a really eye-opening experience that definitely made me more open to traveling and performing internationally.
Tori: What life lesson has stuck with you from your time in the gym?
Sarah: A lot of life lessons! Lately I've been thinking a lot about the love and joy that I have for my teammates and the privilege that we had performing together. That's what it's about, recognizing the joy and connection that you have with other people while you're performing, but also recognizing the joy you feel in your own body. A lot of times, when we're given a task, we have to ask ourselves where does that come from: does it come from ourselves or from outside pressures? And at the end of the day, you have to enjoy what you're doing and that joy will come through in whatever you do and that's what you're sharing with the audience, the judges, your teammates, your coach, and with yourself.
I guess the life lesson is to take care of your body and to ask yourself what gives you joy and can you continue to find that movement joyful after gymnastics. Stay as body-aware as possible because that can give you joy in whatever you do. We don't realize how resilient we are until we stop moving. So a life lesson for me is to keep moving! Enjoy moving my spine, dance when I can, hang on the jungle gym bars when I'm with my kids at the playground. Stay mobile and stay young.
Tori: What's your favorite memory from your time with the team?
Tori: One that sticks out is from freshman year. We were all gathered in Twain and we had to come up with our freshman lip synch. It's just awesome because it was one of the first experiences the five of us had as a freshman group. We got to choreograph to the song Supersonic and make up our own words, some of which I still remember. "The S is for Super..." [laughs] It was just an incredible bonding experience and I love that we were able to laugh and be creative together.
Tori: What do you miss about your time with SWG?
Something that I miss the most, is training in the gym. Conditioning, believe it or not! I definitely struggled at the time. I was one of the weaker gymnasts and definitely needed to condition more than I probably did. I miss that so much because it's hardcore to work out and sweat and go through tears and have rips and to push your body. But you know that you're all working toward a common goal and you're supporting each other. I encourage everybody to cherish the tears and the rips and those special bonding moments while you grow stronger as an individual and as a team.
Tori: Do you have any advice for the current athletes?
Sarah: It's a cliché that it goes by so fast and it's hard to appreciate when you're in the thick of it. But I feel like I appreciate the gymnastics even more now that I'm a parent. It's the tough times that make you stronger. Parenting isn't always easy, that's for sure, but those moments of sweet reward are so worth the tough times. I just encourage everyone to hang in there, enjoy it, and to relish in the friendships because that is something you're going to have for the rest of your life.
I wish the girls the best of luck and it sounds like you're all off to a great start!