Defying Gravity

Freshman Tamara Botwin-Lazarow is a level 8 gymnast who has been doing competitive gymnastics for nine years.


Photo courtesy of Tamara Botwin-Lazarow.

One chance to show them what you got. Do the routine. Stick the landing. Get the points. If not, hours of training seem like nothing once the judges give you the numbers.

This is the reality for level 8 gymnast freshman Tamara Botwin-Lazarow.

“You’re on an apparatus up off the floor. It’s not like soccer or basketball, you’re up there by yourself in front of judges, in front of parents, in front of other gymnasts and you have to show everybody what you can do.” Botwin-Lazarow said. “And you know you can do it because we don’t get a break during any time of the year so we train year round [but] it’s very nerve wracking because it’s very easy to mess up.”

Botwin-Lazarow began competitive gymnastics in kindergarten and started because her mom “saw [her climbing around a lot.]” 

“It was something I liked that gave me some exercise to do outside of school and it helped me make new friends,” Botwin-Lazarow said. “I’ve always had a goal of getting to level 8. It always seems so much more fun than the other [levels].”

 Going from pre team, levels 1-2, to the compulsory, 3-5, to optionals, 6-10, Botwin-Lazarow has expanded on the individualistic routines and skills used as she competes at a higher level.

“[In optionals,] you get your own customized routine with your own music,choreography and your own skills depending on what you can do and what requirements [you have to meet,],” Botwin-Lazarow said.

Additionally at the higher levels, gymnastics tend to specialize in one of four apparatuses- vault, beam, bars or floor. However, Botwin-Lazarow chose to do all four and has always enjoyed floor and beam more because of the opportunity it gives to “put your own personality into it,” which she describes as “peppy and fun.”

“I love tumbling. It has always been the easiest for me. It’s just fun getting to fly and that’s where I feel you get to do it most,” Botwin-Lazarow said. “For the dancing element, I get to put it all out there and show the judges who I am and I get to smile and have fun.”

A typical practice for Botwin-Lazarow consists of a starting warm up and stretch, practicing events on each apparatus and ending practice with conditioning and strength training. They practice four days a week and during the optionals season in the spring, her gym competes in about six competitions, which includes regionals and state competitions. Last season, Botwin-Lazarow’s team placed first out of 124 at the regionals championships.

Beyond just competing with her teammates, Botwin-Lazarow appreciates the connection they have gained through practicing weekly with one another in the same gym.

“We all have kind of the same energy,” Botwin-Lazarow said. “We’re all fun and we all love gymnastics. When one of us sees the other one struggling we’re like ‘hey just breathe. You know you can do this.’ We can give each other advice to help us breathe,calm down and then go back up and do it.”

Although her teammates are on the sideline supporting her during competitions, Botwin-Lazarow has her own way of coping with the anxiety that comes when competing.

“I put my hand on my stomach and I take three deep breaths and then especially on beam, because beam is the most nerve wracking one for me. I take a big deep breath and before I do my mount I have certain spots in my routine to help me remember to breathe,” Botwin-Lazarow said. “But, it’s hard because when I get nervous I feel my stomach start to hurt and I just have to remember that I know how to do it and I breathe and visualize myself doing it.”

Regarding the skills needed to compete, the judges evaluate a wide range of criteria and Botwin-Lazarow’s performance within those competitions determines if she’s allowed to move up to the next level.

“I try not to focus on my criteria and I let my coaches say ‘okay, you have to have this skill and this skill and this skill.’ And then I learned those and if I’m having trouble with one of them they’ll give me alternatives that I can learn,” Botwin-Lazarow said. “Personally I think about my form mostly because I get a lot of deductions on my form for not having straight legs or pointed toes.”

Additionally, Botwin-Lazarow’s gymnastics teammate Emery recalls that Botwin-Lazarow was always “really nice and sweet to everybody”  with Emery particularly noticing Botwin-Lazarow’s vibrant personality as a friend and athlete.

“When I started [Botwin-Lazarow] was a few levels ahead of me. I always looked up to people that were at a higher level. Then, when we caught up, it was nice to get to know her as a closer friend. Her floor routine is very fun and upbeat. It’s fun to watch her do it and she likes to smile when she does it,” Santiago.

Getting to know Botwin-Lazarow more as they practiced together Santiago has been able to see Bowtin-Lazarow’s progress first hand.

“She’s doing really well and sometimes she has mental blocks but she gets past them one way or another. Even if something starts out not the best she keeps trying and it progressively gets better. Even if you critique her she’ll take it as an advantage to get better,” Santiago said.

According to Botwin-Lazarow, she is able to better handle the demands of competitive gymnastics compared to other gymnasts, however balancing other aspects of life originally posed a challenge.

“[I’ve been] physically trained to [compete] at a young age since I’ve been doing gymnastics my whole life but it was harder to [balance school and the sport] when I was younger. Now it’s definitely easier because we have SSH and sometimes during classes [I] get free time to work on homework. If I don’t finish it during school I have a free sixth [period] so I usually work on [my homework], then I get to the gym and then I have to work on it after the gym.”

Although she competes with a wide variety of different gymnastics through her competition, Botwin-Lazarow tries to focus on her definition of success.

“For a lot of girls their goal is to get first place and that goal helps them strive for that placement because they know people are doing better than them and they want to be the best. But, I try to focus on not getting first place but getting my scores and bettering my confidence and consistency,” Botwin-Lazarow said. “Because you’re competing against a lot of different people almost every time, your placement varies, especially when you go to states and regionals. Some people think that I should have bigger goals but I like focusing on bettering myself because if I focus on other people that’ll just bring me down.”

Unsure if she is going to continue gymnastics in college, Botwin-Lazarow hopes to develop her skills further and go from there.

“I’m gonna strengthen my skills and my form and everything for next season and I’m also getting a new floor routine since I’ve had it for two years,” Botwin-Lazarow said.  “I obviously would want to do level 9 but it depends on how fast I can learn those skills and how confident and consistent they are. But, I think I’m just gonna see where my journey takes me.”