IOWA CITY, Iowa — Senior Clair Kaji, born and raised in Vancouver, Canada, made her journey to Iowa City, Iowa, and made a significant impact on the University of Iowa Women’s Gymnastics program and herself.
“I didn’t even know about the state of Iowa until about tenth grade,” Kaji laughed. “I looked at the curriculum and majors that were offered, the resources, and I connected the two between academics and athletics.”
Kaji is more than just who she is on the mat. “She grew as a person more than an athlete, which in turn helped her in athletics,” Iowa head coach Larissa Libby said about the senior.
Kaji’s career as a GymHawk started in 2017 as she competed in every meet as a true freshman. She earned Big Ten Freshman of the Week accolades twice. Kaji was also named to second team All-Big Ten and qualified as a beam specialist for the NCAA Championships and finished 17th with a score of 9.8625.
During her sophomore season, her career was halted after tearing her Achilles tendon during the Hawkeyes’ meet against Ohio State. This situation was not ideal for Kaji, but there were some positives to come from the situation. “I had a hard time adjusting my role,” said Kaji. “It was definitely a new perspective.”
"Finding myself outside of gymnastics was a huge steppingstone for me," Kaji said. "When you're outside you get a bigger picture, not just gymnastics, but in life, and how we can make ourselves better as people, not just athletes."
In 2019, Kaji bounced back strong and scored season highs of 9.900 in every event she competed in; beam, floor, and bars. Kaji was named first-team All-Big Ten following the 2019 season.
Kaji entered her final season healthy and was named to the 2020 Big Ten Women’s Gymnasts to Watch List. So far, she earned season-high scores on bars (9.850), beam (9.850), and floor (9.875).
As a senior, she mentors her younger teammates with her passion and leadership. “She took it upon herself to take time to have coffee or learn more about each of the new freshmen this season.”
With regular season dwindling down, Kaji is preparing for the future by applying to grad school for social work. “I want to do something surrounding people because I am a very relationship, human connections type of person,” Kaji said. “Anything to do with helping kids.”
Libby reflects on the four years she has coached Kaji, “That’s not who she was when she got here,” Libby said. “I hope she remembers she is so much more than this, when she stops gymnastics, her empowerment of other young people — it doesn’t have to stop just because gymnastics stops.”