By RICK BROWN
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Stadium jumping was Alexis Maday’s first love.
Her parents met at the stables at West Point, where her dad was on the riding team and her mom had a horse.
“The first six years of my life revolved around stables and horses,” Maday said.
By 6-years-old, she wanted to pursue stadium jumping. Little did she know that would lead to something completely different.
“My mom wanted to make sure I had the lower body strength, because you have to stand in the stirrups a majority of the time,” Maday said. “So she put me in gymnastics to build my strength and coordination.”
Maday started to dream of the Olympics soon after and made the United States National Team in 1995 and 1997. But a series of back and ankle injuries ended that quest.
She didn’t follow a traditional path from Frederick, Maryland, to the University of Iowa, either. But that didn’t stop her from becoming one of the greatest gymnasts in program history. She was a three-time All-American from 2002-04, a six-time Big Ten champion, and the conference’s Gymnast of the Year in 2004. Maday still holds numerous Iowa records.
Because of that glowing resume, Maday is one of seven inductees into the 30th National Iowa Varsity Club Hall of Fame class Aug. 31 at the Coralville Marriott Hotel and Convention Center. Tickets to the event, which is open to the public, can be purchased at hawkeyesports.com/HOFtickets.
Maday was eager to dive into college gymnastics and turn the page on her injury-dashed Olympic goals.
“With gymnastics, your peak time for the sport is usually high school-age,” she said. “When I hit that peak point, my body started to break down and I was competing at the highest level. Unfortunately, that’s when recruiting starts. By my senior year, I had a couple stress fractures in my back and I had surgery on both ankles. It’s amazing anyone wanted me at that point.”
She had already made her five official campus visits: Florida, Georgia, Nebraska, Penn State, and West Virginia when Iowa coach Mike Lorenzen reached out. Maday decided to make an unofficial visit.
“It was the first place I truly felt wanted,” Maday said. “The girls on the team welcomed me from the get-go. I loved the city, everything was within walking distance. It was a good fit, coming from a small town.”
Maday made an immediate impact. She was Big Ten champion in both the all-around and floor exercise in 2001. She was named All-Big Ten and was voted the league’s Freshman of the Year.
She went on to be named All-Big Ten four straight seasons. Maday won Big Ten titles in floor exercise in 2002 and 2004, uneven bars in 2003, and vault in 2004. In addition to being named the Big Ten’s top gymnast as a senior, she was a first-team All-American at the NCAA Championships in the uneven bars in 2002 and 2003 and floor exercise in 2004.
A career framed by Freshman of the Year honors in 2001 and the league’s top gymnast in 2004 will now add hall of fame distinction.
“Going into it, I didn’t even know there were titles and accolades like that,” Maday said. “I just knew I wanted to compete.”
Maday, who lives in Fairfield, Pennsylvania, is married and has two children, said her career rarely comes up now.
“I met my husband the summer after I graduated, so he has never seen me compete,” Maday said. “He has seen videos. It’s easy for that to get swept under the rug because we move on, and we start our lives and have kids and families. There are quite a few people who don’t know (about her career). They might know I did gymnastics, but they don’t know to what extent.”
Maday has memory books and scrapbooks of her career and has looked at them with her daughter. In one picture from the NCAA Championships, she is surrounded by three Olympians, including Jamie Dantzscher.
“It’s neat to look back and show my daughter, ‘Hey, mom could hang with the best of them at one point in time,'” Maday said.
Maday coached gymnastics for nine years after college, but gave it up when her daughter, now 11, decided to pursue other sports.
“We talk about college and scholarships and how hard you have to work,” Maday said. “I think she is finally at the age where she understands that.”
Though she doesn’t compete now, gymnastics will always be part of Alexis Maday.
“Walking into a dark gym or a training facility, there’s nothing better,” she said. “It’s like a basketball player walking into an arena or a boxer walking into a ring when it’s empty. There’s something about that, it will always be there. It gives me goose bumps and chokes me up thinking about it. It’s one of those sports that will always have a special place with me.”