Finding a New Normal

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IOWA CITY, Iowa — Charlotte Sullivan committed to the University of Iowa women’s gymnastics program sight unseen, but that doesn’t mean she’s not at home with the Gymhawks.
Sullivan is from Christchurch, one of the main cities in New Zealand with a population of approximately 300,000. She fell in love with gymnastics at age 5, and by the time she was in high school she was traveling overseas for competitions.
Of all the places she visited, Sullivan never traveled to the place she would soon call home.
“I had never been to Iowa before I committed,” said Sullivan. “I signed in November and I came to visit in January. I looked at it and saw pictures online, and I called the coaches and talked to them on the phone, but I hadn’t met anyone in person or stepped foot on campus before I committed.”
The January visit confirmed what Sullivan realized from speaking with UI head coach Larissa Libby and the Hawkeye coaching staff. Iowa was where she should be.
The gymnastics program is only one of the reasons Sullivan loves her new home. Sullivan sees similarities between Iowa City and her hometown. It has a small-town atmosphere, and everyone is friendly. She also loves the support she gets as a student-athlete.
“When I walk around campus or around town, people yell at me because I’m wearing Hawkeye gear and they can tell I am a student-athlete,” said Sullivan. “I noticed the support, especially when I went home in August. I was wearing Hawkeye gear, and even not in Iowa, in airports, people would say things. It was cool.”
Although the towns have a similar feel, the climate is different. New Zealand typically has temperatures ranging from the 20s in the winter to 90s in the summer.
“I’m still getting used to the winter here,” said Sullivan. “It’s very cold here. It never gets this cold at home…ever. New Zealand is kind of mild the whole year.”
Sullivan is adjusting to the climate, but it is still hard to be away from her family and hometown.  It makes it that much more difficult because Christchurch has recently been hit with several earthquakes, so the city is in a rebuilding period.
“It’s hard because I miss my family,” said Sullivan. “It’s nice, because of Facebook and Skype we can keep in touch, but it’s hard not being there to help rebuild.”
Sullivan’s teammates have helped to fill the void. Iowa has become her home away from home and the gymnastics team has become family. The University of Iowa has become her new normal.
“The team has become my second family. I know people say that, but they have been and that’s been nice,” said Sullivan. “Larissa and (assistant coach) Jennifer (Green) have been so motherly to me, and (assistant coach) Vince (Smurro) has always been there for me. The girls have also been so lovely to me.
“It was hard to move to a new country, but it was nice coming in and knowing there would be 20 people right away who would be my best friends.”