IOWA CITY, Iowa — Whether she knew it or not, junior gymnast Gina Leal has been standing out for most of her life.
“It all started when I was five-years old and my family and I packed our bags to move to the United States from Venezuela,” Leal said.
Without a common language to communicate with or any friends to fall back on, Leal stood out, but not in the way she wanted to.
“I hid who I was and where I came from for most of my life,” Leal added.
As she got older, Leal understood that it takes somebody who is different to accomplish extraordinary things.
“I was taught to never settle for less and always standout, dare to be different and take risks to reach for my goals,” Leal said. “I was taught to pursue excellence and be relentless, celebrate strengths and talents, express myself verbally, intellectually, and athletically.”
Leal’s athletics brought her to the University of Iowa from Glastonbury, Conn., in 2016 where her coaches helped Leal own her story and her journey in life.
“(The coaches) at Iowa helped me find who I am and how to own my story,” Leal said. “We empower each other to demonstrate how powerful we are when we join forces. We all have different backgrounds and understand what each one of us brings to the table.”
Leal finished seventh on floor at the 2018 NCAA Regional meet with a career-high 9.900 and was Iowa’s sportsmanship award winner at the Big Ten Championships.
Leal’s sportsmanship award is a product of standing out above the crowd and expressing herself.
“Gymnastics has been a constant in my life for the last 15 years, it has been a great form of expression, and it has been my escape growing up,” Leal added. “I have had to learn to push through the disappointment and to not be down on myself, but to work for the possibilities in the future.”
And when one of her teammates are competing, Leal makes sure that her cheering will not go unnoticed.
“My role is to be selfless, to always be a constant source of energy and happiness no matter what the day has brought us. My ambition is to try to inspire and motivate every single person on this team,” Leal said.
Leal has been standing out for so long, its second nature and the payoff for her is second to none.
“Standing out to me is about reminding myself every day that with every interaction I have, is an opportunity to make a positive impact on others,” Leal said.
Leal and the GymHawks compete at Ohio State Saturday at 11 a.m. (CT). Follow live results on hawkeyesports.com/wgymlive or watch the live stream on BTN2Go.