Jen Hansen was a standout gymnast for the University of Kentucky, winning the NCAA all-around title in 1993, 1994, and 1995. She graduated in 1997 with a degree in animal science and still holds the record of winning three straight NCAA all-around titles!
After graduation, Hansen took a job in her field of animal science and although she enjoyed it, she wanted something more. Her next step was to pursue a career in entertainment where she performed in some shows and is now doing stunt-double work for Make It or Break It, the television sitcom. About two years ago, Hansen decided to get back into shape in the sport she has always loved. At age 37 she attempted a comeback to the elite level of gymnastics at the Open Championships elite qualifier in June of this year. Although she was not successful, she was very close and wants to continue training in hopes of making next year’s Visa Championships and possibly the U.S. Olympic Trials in 2012.
We highlight this story because it illustrates there is no age when a person must stop doing gymnastics. So many people think gymnasts are too old when they are 19, 21 or 24, but here is a young woman who is 37 and still pursuing her dream. So for the USA Gymnastics slogan – "Begin Here. Go Anywhere." – Hansen has come full circle.
Good luck to Jen and thanks for reminding us – you can do anything you put your mind to, regardless of age.
USA Gym: How did you get involved with gymnastics and at what age? Where did you live (city/state) growing up?
Hansen: I grew up in Somerset, Wisconsin. When I was 6 years old my parents took me to my first gymnastics lesson at the Somerset High School gymnastics summer camp. A couple of years later, my coach Rick Lang, suggested my sisters and I enroll at Crowley’s, a private gymnastics center in Saint Paul, Minn.
USA Gym: What is the best thing about gymnastics?
Hansen: My favorite thing about gymnastics is the strong relationships I’ve built with my coaches, teammates and fellow competitors over the years. Some of my best friends are from the gymnastics community. I also love the "roar of the crowd" when I hit a great routine.
USA Gym: What was your best accomplishment as a Level 10 gymnast?
Hansen: I trained at several different gyms when I was in high school; Crowleys, Northlanders, and St. Paul Turners. As a Level 10 gymnast, I was the JO national all-around champion in 1990.
USA Gym: Did you ever try to do elite before college? If so how did it go.
Hansen: I was an elite for two years and I competed in the USA Championships in 1991.
USA Gym: Tell me about college and summarize your accomplishments while competing for the University of Kentucky?
Hansen: I competed for the University of Kentucky and won three straight NCAA All-Around Championships (1993-1995), a record I still hold to this day. I also won eight individual event titles and 13 All-American honors. I received the honor of NCAA’s Most Outstanding Gymnast at the 25th Anniversary of the Women’s Championships.
I had great coaches at the University of Kentucky; Leah Little, Tim Myers, Amy Winn, and Sharon Smith. They committed to educating us as athletes and as people. I went there because it felt like being home in Wisconsin- from the rolling hills, to the town’s friendly people and wonderful team and staff. I have very fond memories of my college years and I’m still in touch with Coach Little and several of my UK teammates.
USA Gym: What year did you graduate, what is your degree in, and what did you do right out of college?
Hansen: I graduated in 1997 with a BS in Animal Science specified Equine. I have a love for animals but horses have always been my passion. My first job out of college was as a Barn Technician at Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital. I administered post-op medication for the horses after surgery. Later, I was promoted and given the opportunity to assist in pre-surgery and surgery. I loved my job and my co-workers but I wanted to try something new.
I always wanted to pursue a career in entertainment, so in 1998 I moved to Orlando, Fla., and worked for Sea World. I performed in a water skiing and tumbling show called the Intensity Games. Soon after, I traveled to Texas and Ohio to work as well. In 2001, I came back to Florida and performed in Disney World’s Tarzan Rocks show.
USA Gym: What are you doing now for a career and where do you live?
Hansen: Currently, I work and live in California. I’ve done stunt work on ABC Family’s show, Make it or Break it (MIOBI) for the past two seasons and always try to do extra stunt gigs on the side. I also help coach at Platinum gymnastics and work as a personal trainer part-time.
USA Gym: When did you decide to start training in gymnastics again and why?
Hansen: I started training again two years ago because I wanted to work as a stuntwoman. It was so much fun getting back into shape and challenging myself again. If the scene called for a big skill, I wanted to be the one to do it. So I got in the gym and just started playing around with old and new skills. On the season finale taping of "Make It Or Break It," I was asked to do my handspring front with a full. Bela Karolyi was there and encouraged me to try out for the national team. Since then, I’ve been training for elite competition.
USA Gym: What was the most difficult part of your comeback?
Hansen: The hardest part was getting my endurance level back.
USA Gym: How many hours a day did you train when trying to comeback?
Hansen: I train gymnastics four days a week. I’ve learned to listen to my body so if I need a break, I will take it.
USA Gym: Which event was easiest to get back and which was the most difficult?
Hansen: The easiest events to get back are beam and vault. The most difficult is bars.
USA Gym: What competition did you go to and try to qualify and what were your results?
Hansen: My first competition back was this past June at the USA Gymnastics Open Championships in Orlando, Fla. One month later I competed at an Elite Qualifier at the U.S. Gymnastics Training Center (Bela Karolyi’s Ranch) in Texas.
USA Gym: What was it like to be a little older than the other gymnasts?
Hansen: Being 37 years old, I believe I am mentally stronger than when I was younger because I can put things into perspective. Naturally, in the days leading up to a meet, I get nervous but once I’m on the competition floor, the nerves are gone and my adrenaline rush kicks in…even after all these years.
USA Gym: Can you tell us about your routines and skills you competed?
Hansen: Vault: front handspring front full, front handspring front layout Beam: punch front mount, series: bach handspring layout, side aerial, switch leap – split full, punch front to back tuck, round-off double back dismount My skills will change/upgrade the more I train .
USA Gym: What are your plans now? Will you continue to train in gymnastics?
Hansen: My main goal is to have fun with gymnastics and show that it’s not a dead-end sport. I’m pretty simple — I want to be coached and I want to work hard. I’ve always said I’ll keep doing gymnastics, as long as I’m having fun and challenging myself… and that’s why I’m still here.
USA Gym: What are your future goals and aspirations?
Hansen: I want to reach my full potential in 2012. For me, that means competing well at Championships next year and strongly pursuing Olympic Trials.
USA Gym: What message would you like to tell others about our sport?
Hansen: For all the athletes reading this, I’d share this advice. Don’t be concerned with what others think or say. Your goals are yours only and no one else’s. Contrary to what people think, I believe gymnastics has no limits-too tall or too old, etc. If you love what you do, continue to do it. A verse from one of Tom Petty’s songs plays in my head a lot "you never slow down, you never grow old." I whole-heartedly believe that. It also helps to have the good Lord’s grace on my side. I try and do my best to follow his calling for me, "For I can do everything with the help of Christ who gives me the strength I need. Philippians 4:13