Heidi Moneymaker's hard work and positive attitude,
both in and out of the gym,
reflect her love of laughter,
friends and having fun
It's 2:30 p.m. in Yates Gym and women's gymnastics is now in session.
Amid bursts of laughter, Heidi Moneymaker wraps her arms around her body and assumes a solemn face. She struggles to keep from grinning before tumbling through her rendition of teammate Kiralee Hayashi's floor exercise. Teammate Stella Umeh quickly joins in, and together they perform exaggerated, funky moves with the most serious of faces. Teammate Lena Degteva joins in and soon all the girls are out there.
Cut to the bright lights of Pauley Pavilion: Faces written with intensity, members of four teams, including UCLA, execute moves on each of the four gymnastics apparatuses. There's no goofing around here, as UCLA takes home another victory and the top three all-around scores, one of which belongs to Moneymaker.
Yet the camaraderie prevails as hugs, high fives and head-rufflings head around.
"Heidi is game for anything," said head coach Valorie Kondos. "She doesn't really care about making a fool of herself; she just loves life, and has a ton of energy to enjoy it!"
This boundless energy manifests itself right down to her staccato way of speaking. "I'm such a hyper person, I go into overdrive before a meet," she grins. "Usually I'm bouncing off walls."
That energy fuels what Kondos calls "One hundred percent commitment, 100 percent of the time."
Moneymaker is team captain not only because of her energy and strong work ethic, but because she cares about her teammates, who form an extended family for the second-year undeclared student.
This is evident in practice two days before the meet. Fierce sit-ups, prolonged headstands, back-cracking and stretches involving unbelievable body contortions precede the rare, "Candid Camera" moment of improvising floor routines, after which each gymnast concentrates on the vault, the beam, the uneven bars or the floor exercise.
In between routines though, the camaraderie comes through: Hayashi playfully kicks Moneymaker from behind, and caught off-guard, she falls over in mock pain. And when Hayashi's mother comes into the gym, several of the gymnasts greet her affectionately with hugs.
Near the end of the practice, a few gymnasts are found chatting as Moneymaker lounges cross-wise over Hayashi, who takes no notice as she lies on her stomach working on a crossword puzzle. Soon the gymnasts gather together for the cool-down, breaking into splits in unison. Afterward, Moneymaker heads out for a Friday night with her friends, two of whom are teammates.
"We get together a lot outside of practice and competition," Moneymaker said. "No team is as close as we are.
"No one was too shy when they got here and if they were, it didn't last long," she continued.
Moneymaker spends about three hours a day, five days a week in practice unless the team treks to other U.S. cities for meets. The schedule can get grueling, and Moneymaker admits that she doesn't always keep up with it.
Yet she seems to be balancing her life pretty well. She shares an apartment with three others, two of whom are Degteva and teammate Luisa Portocarrero. Between them they share one car, which at times makes for a chaotic morning when they carpool to school.
Moneymaker usually arrives on campus between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m., then heads off to class. Several gymnasts take the same courses; Moneymaker's boyfriend is in the same history lecture as she, and they meet throughout the day when possible. Because he's also a gymnast, she says, he understands her schedule.
This includes practice at 2:00 p.m., after which she has a few hours to do homework and otherwise take care of what needs to be done. In reality, however, she's usually a little too exhausted after the three-hour workout.
Moneymaker rarely has spare time, and on the occasions she does, she prefers sleeping in. Actually, she says: "Gymnastics itself gets to be my spare time. I like training, learning new things."
"Heidi is the hardest working gymnast that all of us have ever seen, but she's not a Goody Two-Shoes or a kiss-up," said Kondos. "To live that commitment is extraordinary."
Kondos adds that Moneymaker has been down the hard and easy roads maintaining her position on the team. "Her understanding of why our standards are so important has helped her communicate these things to her teammates, especially the younger classmen."