Canadian Connection

Jan. 23, 2007

Hawkeye Women’s Gymnastics Head Coach, Larissa Libby remembers the time she spent at the Winstonettes Gym in Toronto, when she first saw Jen Simbhudas. Still in the early stages of her gymnastics career, Libby saw the potential that Simbhudas had. When Libby decided to leave the gym, she remembers the young girl beginning to get good. She didn’t take it to another level until Libby’s former coaches began working with her.

Aside from being a phenomenal gymnast, Libby said that one of the reasons she recruited Simbhudas was her background. Not only did the two learn gymnastics at the same gym in Canada, but they share similar ethnic backgrounds, with both having parents from Guyana. That helps Libby understand the little things about Simbhudas’ personality tied to her ethnic background.

As far as gymnastics, the two have trained under the same coaches.

“It’s easy to coach her in the sense that I know what her coaches did to push her. They did it to me,” said Libby. “I know the right buttons to push with her.”

Knowing her past as she does, Simbhudas knew that training under Libby would be the right thing for her. She understands when her girls get tired, both physically and mentally.

Libby’s background includes being a member of two Canadian World Championship teams and the 1988 Canadian Olympic team. Simbhudas has similar aspirations for herself, which is one of the many reasons she chose Iowa.

One thing that could stand in the way of her dream is health. Last year, she had a medical condition that wouldn’t allow her to train throughout the preseason. Slowly she worked herself back by training once or twice a week. She went to the team’s second meet at Louisiana State University. Libby allowed her to warm up, and she ended up vaulting. It was surprising to Libby because of the lack of preparation that Simbhudas had going into the meet.

A month later, she was warming up on the uneven bars at Texas Woman’s University and injured her elbow. It appeared that she was back to where she was before the season started. The doctors checked her out and found nothing was broken, but there was a lot of pain. Rather than sitting out for the rest of the year, she decided to tape her elbow. It cut her circulation off so she couldn’t feel the pain. The following week she was vaulting in competition.

As the Big Ten Championships rolled around in March, she did a floor routine. By that time she was competing in three events.

Currently, she has been hampered by shin splints, but still expects herself to compete through the pain, just as she did last year. She has already competed in the Black and Gold Intrasquad meet.

“I don’t know how I’ve been doing it,” said Simbhudas about how she’s been able to compete through the injuries. “I guess its because I’ve been doing it since I was four-years-old. Sometimes I won’t train for a week or two and just go and vault.”

She’s been doing gymnastics for so long that she’s secure with what she can do. If she needs to do one routine, she knows that she can go out and do it, even if she hasn’t been able to train.

“It’s not like we ever said you have to do it. She is so sick of being hurt and not being able to contribute when she knows how good she is,” said Libby.

She does it not only for herself, but also for her teammates. She knows the team needs her so she’s willing to go out and put forth her best effort.

Gymnastics at the collegiate level has allowed her to compete every weekend as a part of a team. In Canada, she would only compete about once a month as an individual. Her time at Iowa with Libby has given her the time she needs to prepare for her ultimate goal of making the 2008 Canadian Olympic team.

“Training her for the Olympics is very cool because I will have been there for the start of her career and for the culmination of her career,” said Libby. “I will, hopefully, be working with my own coaches to train her for the Olympics.”

By: Josh Mitchell, Iowa Sports Information