SUU's Sakhitab traveling alone to 


By Jaclyn Olsen, For the Deseret News
April 20, 2005

One more time Leah Sakhitab will find herself on her own. The Southern Utah University sophomore gymnast just has to think back a couple of years to remember the feeling.

"It's the first time in a long time I'll be competing by myself," Sakhitab said of her solo trip to the NCAA national gymnastics competition.

Sakhitab qualified by being the second highest all-around scorer not already on one of the two teams going to nationals from the North Central Regional held at the University of Utah April 9.

Though her team finished fifth and missed qualifying for the finals, Sakhitab hit all four of her routines and will head to Auburn for the April 21 competition where she will do events with the team from Iowa State in the evening session.

"I was always on my own. I never had a team until I came to SUU," said Sakhitab. "I always competed on my own back then (prior to college), so that should help with nationals and being prepared to compete without the team."

Though she took her first gymnastics class at the age of six, Sakhitab didn't have the stable early training most collegiate gymnasts receive.

"For a long time I just went from one gym to another. There wasn't a real stable program where I'm from, but it's getting better there now," said Sakhitab, who grew up in Rochester, Minn., and continues to call the city home.

She even took a year off from competition her freshman year of high school but couldn't completely stay away from the gym. Then she was spotted one day at that gym by Jivko Slavenov, a coach from Bulgaria, who'd been to the Olympics, "and he said I needed to get back into it because I had the talent to get scholarships and do gymnastics in college."

Sakhitab listened and pushed herself back into the gym full time and back into level-10l competitions, while her coaches worked around their schedules to fit in her and her competitions. "They had to schedule around their busy seasons," she said, and she always ended up taking to the mats without teammates.

"Sometimes it was difficult to be self-motivated with coaches going in and out, but when they were there they really were supportive," said Sakhitab with her almost contagious enthusiasm.

Because she was on her own, she didn't know much about how the college recruiting process worked, and she sent out her videos late. But one she sent to a coach she'd met and liked at a camp in Wisconsin caught his attention, and SUU coach Scott Bauman invited her to join her first team in Cedar City.

And now that she's gotten a taste of true team camaraderie, Sakhitab doesn't want to give it up.

"I'm so used to the team now. It takes the pressure off, and it's so much more fun," she said, adding that she and her teammates were still excited for her to make the trip to nationals — even if she had to do it on her own.

"She's more excited about seeing her teammates succeed than about her own success," said Bauman. But he and the team are behind her all the way in her solo venture to Auburn University. And though she'll be alone, save her two coaches, she'll feel the encouragement of her team all the way from Southern Utah.

Before regionals even started it was agreed "if anyone makes it to nationals then the whole team has to keep coming into practice. They're having fun and playing around, and I have to stay focused, but it's nice having my teammates here to practice with me," Sakhitab admitted.

But practice is over when she steps on the mats the night of April 21.

Sakhitab has proven she can keep her focus through the toughest of adversity, though. As she was going about her business, scoring a 38.950 in the all-around — a score that had her wondering after the meet ended whether she really made it or not — she found herself in a situation she might never see again.

"I was in the middle of my beam routine when Annabeth Eberle finished on the floor," Sakhitab said with a grin. The explosion from the huge Utah crowd for one of its own rocked the entire arena. "I was surprised and looked up, then thought, no, you have to focus," and she immediately returned to her routine, which scored a 9.725. She was steady the entire night, recording a 9.675 on vault, a 9.725 on bars and a 9.825 on floor.

And when it was all over, she and Bauman thought it was good enough for a trip to nationals, but they just weren't sure until a case of nerves had firmly planted itself in her stomach.

But now the girl that loves being with her team will travel on her own with plenty of reachable goals in mind.

"There are going to be a lot of good gymnasts there. I just want to take it all in, hit my routines, do the best I can do, enjoy the experience and learn from it. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," she said. An opportunity she can't help but hope just might come around again next year.

Copyright Deseret News, Salt Lake City, Utah

Sakhitab Wins Best All-Around Gymnast Twice

February 1, 2007

Originally from Rochester, Minn., women's gymnastics team co-captain Leah Sakhitab has been involved in the world of gymnastics for the past 16 years.

A senior English major, Sakhitab said she first showed an interest in gymnastics when she took a gym class as a 6-year-old.

"My dad came in to spot me doing a back handspring but I did it on my own," she said.

Sakhitab said she never thought she would become so involved in gymnastics.

Never having had a consistent coach over the years, Sakhitab said she thought she would end up on a college team as a walk-on rather than getting recruited.

Sakhitab said she also had to face traveling an hour back and forth every day to practice because there was no gym in Rochester.

Because she was only able to practice about seven hours a week, while other competing gymnasts were practicing about 35, Sakhitab said she decided to quit gymnastics her freshman year of high school.

However, one year later, Sakhitab said a gym was built in Rochester, and she was able to get in a lot more practice time.

At a camp during her sophomore year, Sakhitab said she first met SUU gymnastics coach Scott Bauman.

Bauman said when he first met Sakhitab, he thought she had bad technique with her flips and twists and said he made her go back and practice the basics.

Bauman said the first thing he noticed about Sakhitab was her willingness to put forth the needed effort to improve.

"(Sakhitab's) heart and will are her biggest attributes," he said.

After getting offered a scholarship at SUU, Sakhitab said she decided to attend because not only did she like the team and the coaches, but she also liked the location and the size of the school.

Sakhitab said one of her greatest accomplishments is making it to the national competition her sophomore year.

"It was great to be able to represent SUU," she said. "It was also cool to watch such great athletes compete."

So far this season, Sakhitab was awarded second place all-around in the first meet and first place all-around in the second and third meets.

Senior Jess Langley and team co-captain, said she has enjoyed working with Sakhitab over the past four years.

"She has been a great leader," Langley said. "It has been really motivating for the rest of the team."

Bauman said he agrees that Sakhitab is a good leader.

"She is a leader by example," he said. "She knows what it takes to be great."

Sakhitab said she expects the team to improve as the season progresses and the girls gain confidence in competing.

"We have already shown that we are able to do well at our first meet," she said. "I think we will because we can."

After graduation, Sakhitab said she plans to teach high school English and said she would also like to continue to coach gymnastics.

Sakhitab said she would also like to spend a year teaching and coaching somewhere abroad like in Spain, South America or Europe before she gets settled into her teaching career.

After spending 16 years as a gymnast, Sakhitab said she has learned many valuable life lessons from the sport: discipline, goal setting, confidence and determination.

"Gymnastics has made me who I am," she said.

Copyright SUUNews 


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