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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Flip-flop to the top

    Senior gymnast Jamie Holton practices on the balance beam, an event in which she had a career-high score of 9.875 this season. Holton not only balances school and gymnastics but also leads the athletics department in community service hours.
    Senior gymnast Jamie Holton practices on the balance beam, an event in which she had a career-high score of 9.875 this season. Holton not only balances school and gymnastics but also leads the athletics department in community service hours.

    She came to Arizona as a walk-on, but senior Jamie Holton has emerged as an MVP for the gymnastics team, excelling both in the gym and in the community.

    As the only senior still in the lineup for Arizona, Holton leads the team on floor, where her artistry makes her a crowd favorite, and where she is ranked No. 5 in the Pacific 10 Conference and No. 26 nationally.

    But aside from dedicating herself inside the gym, Holton organizes volunteering projects for the whole team.

    “”She’s an extremely helpful person,”” said sophomore Suzanne Alvey, one of Holton’s roommates and a fellow member of the gymnastics team. “”She just has a giving heart. She just genuinely wants to help people. That’s just how she is.””

    A helping hand

    She hasn’t won any Pac-10 titles yet, but Holton has another title to defend: the Athletic Director’s Cup for Community Service.

    In 2006 she won the individual cup along with baseball senior Mark Melancon and helped the Gymcats earn the team award, a performance she hopes to repeat this year.

    “”This year I’ve probably done more hours than last year,”” she said. “”I should win in theory, but we’ll see.””

    Holton also organizes most of her team’s community service projects, and the gymnasts are leading the rest of the athletics department with 239.5 hours, 120.5 hours ahead of their closest competitor.

    On free afternoons, she goes to middle schools and high schools and talks to kids about staying in school and the dangers of doing drugs, a subject she’s studied as a public health major. And she usually has to include a gymnastics trick or two.

    For Holton, who said she loves kids, volunteering is a way to interact with community youth and to practice public speaking in low-pressure settings.

    She also coaches at several local gyms, especially during the summer and fall when her gymnastics schedule isn’t so rigorous.

    The new Jamie

    It hasn’t always been smooth sailing for the Phoenix native, who was barely recruited to college programs after a shoulder injury during her senior year of high school.

    “”The Jamie Holton you see right now is nothing like the Jamie Holton that walked in the door,”” said Ryden, who described the early Holton as “”very mediocre.””

    “”She has matured and changed and is doing a level of gymnastics that I’m not sure we even fathomed.””

    A transformation occurred between Holton’s sophomore and junior years, her coaches said.

    After inconsistent performances in 2004 and 2005, Holton participated in all 13 meets in 2006 and posted career highs on vault (9.925), floor (9.825) and beam (9.825).

    No one could pinpoint exactly how Holton ended up at the top of the lineup after competing sparingly her first two years at Arizona, but all agreed that something clicked.

    Assistant coach Colleen Johnson, who helped Holton choreograph her floor routine, said Jamie displays an aura of confidence that she didn’t have when she got to Arizona, and the judges love her for it.

    “”You put her in front of a judge, and I’d bet money on her,”” said Johnson, who coaches Holton on beam. “”One of the judges even said to me … ‘When she presented, she jumped up on the beam and I almost put down my pencil.’ “”

    Holton’s performance quality is what separates her from the crowd, Ryden said.

    “”There’s a lot of gymnasts that can do a lot of skills or whatever, but you need that total, finished, polished product to get the score,”” he said. “”As a coach, it’s so valuable because it’s so stressful to put out a kid where you’re going, ‘Please, don’t screw up.’ When you put out somebody (like Holton), it’s not a matter of them hitting, it’s just how good they’re going to be.””

    This year Holton has only solidified her coaches’ confidence, notching four floor titles – two of them with 9.900s – in addition to a first-place 9.900 on vault.

    “”If you had to compare her to another athlete on another team, she’s the perfect example of your All-American point guard on a basketball team,”” said assistant coach John Court, who works closely with Holton on floor and vault.

    Gym mom

    As she established herself through gymnastics, Holton has also emerged as a mother figure on the team, Ryden said.

    In fact, Holton said she takes a lot of inspiration from her mother, Yong, who moved to the U.S. from Korea during her 20s.

    “”She came here not having anything, not knowing any English,”” Jamie said. “”All of that was just really hard, just giving up all of her family back in Korea to come here to get a better opportunity. She’s always shown that to me, like, ‘Times are gonna be hard sometimes, but you can get through it if I can do it.’ “”

    Holton’s mom never discouraged her from trying new things, least of all gymnastics, which she discovered at a friend’s birthday party at age 6.

    As Jamie progressed in gymnastics, training first at a YMCA, then at a private gym, her mom was there for every skill – and every fall.

    Yong still comes to every home meet and as many away meets as she can drive to – the family car has tons of miles, Jamie said – and she’s also compiling a video archive of Jamie’s performances .

    Yong said she will continue to come to Arizona meets even after Jamie graduates. For at least another year, Jamie will be there too – as a coach.

    “”Gymnastics has been like my whole life,”” Jamie said. “”So I’m going to see what my life is like without gymnastics for that year, and then go from there.””

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