For 50 starry-eyed gymnasts at Peninsula Gymnastics in San Mateo, there are questions whose answers are more valuable than silver.
"What's it like to be a college gymnast?"
"What's the training for college gymnastics like?"
"What is the difference between training for the Olympics and college?"
Last Friday, these young gymnasts with dreams of one day donning a gymnastics uniform at the collegiate level go their answers courtesy of former United States Olympian and current UCLA gymnast Samantha Peszek, who was in San Mateo to promote the 2012 Olympic Trials in San Jose which take place at the end of June.
Peszek is a world-class gymnast and was a part of the 2008 Beijing U.S. team that took home the silver medal — it's a team that included the likes of Shawn Johnson and Nastia Lukin.
But on Friday, with hand after hand going up in the air during her Q&A, it was evident that Peninsula gymnasts were intrigued more by what Peszek represents: a chance to one day go to college and participate in the sports they love.
"I think it's really great for the girls because not only did she compete as an Elite, but she also competes as a college gymnast and that's really what we aim for here.," said Ashley Hansen, a developmental and compulsory team coach at Peninsula Gymnastics. "We want to produce college-level gymnasts and I think for them to be able to come and ask her questions about competing as a college athlete, it gives them hope. It gives them hope for the future. It gives them a reason to stay in the sport. This country produces five Olympic gymnasts every four years, but they produce hundreds of athletes that go to college every year."
"The whole year, I'm in college, so it's really fun to come do this and remember where you started, where it all began," Peszek said. "The energy, the love and the passion for the sport these girls have reminds me how much I love the sport as well."
Peszek fielded an array of questions during a 20-minute Q&A and then signed pictures, gym bags, even teddy bears for her young fans.
"These kids are buzzing with excitement," Hansen said. "We had Carly Patterson come out a couple of months ago and the kids were really excited about that. But half these kids weren't born when she won the Olympics so they all know who Sam is and they were really excited to meet her."
"It's going to be different being on the opposite end of the spectrum," Peszek said. The 2008 silver medalist won't be competing at the trials. "It's going to kill me because I love competing, it's my favorite part of gymnastics. But all the girls we have competing, any of them they choose for the team will win a medal. I have full confidence they can get the job done."
On Friday though, Peszek didn't have to flash her silver medal to inspire the gymnasts at Peninsula. If anything, what she gave them was bigger — she represented a dream.
"That's the emphasis that we put in gymnastics here," Hansen said. "We want our kids to go to college. These parents pay so much for the sport it's insane. I think if you rank the most expensive sports in the country, gymnastics would definitely would be one of the top. So, if we can send them to college for free it was be the best thing for these kids and more the parents."
"College is great," Peszek said. "It might not be as familiar and that blows my mind because to me, it should be more familiar because more people do college gymnastics. It combines the academic part of it so there's a balance. And to experience both, I feel really honored to do both because it's almost like two different sports. The training is different, the mental aspect, the focuses are different and I love them for two different things."
"Not only do they get to go to college for free, but like Samantha was saying, but they get the team aspect of it," Hansen said. "Not only are they going there to do a sport that they love, they're going to meet friends that last a life time, they're going to get people to do their homework with, have a social life with and to have a family for the rest of their lives. You can't ask for something better than that.
"It's amazing [to have Peszek at Peninsula]. Some of these kids are in the gym 20 hours a week. So for them to have something more to strive for is all I could want for them as their coach. They don't always get that. We've never sent a female athlete to college and I think we're close to that. Having Sam come here is a stepping stone. It gives them motivation."