Parkland’s Heather Swanson and Fort Lauderdale’s Jade DeGouveia are used to reaching new heights in gymnastics, and the two teens hope to take their routines to the next level after recently signing national collegiate letters of intent.
Swanson, 17 and a senior at Douglas High School, started in gymnastics when she was 3. Now, nearly 15 years later, she has been awarded a full scholarship to the University of Arizona.
DeGouveia recently celebrated her 18th birthday, and one of her “presents” was acceptance into the University of Oklahoma.
Both gymnasts had their signing day ceremonies in front of friends, family, coaches and fellow gymnasts at the Coconut Creek-based American Twisters gym.
“I just had fun when I was younger,” said Swanson, a Level 10 gymnast. “[College] is always the goal when you get older and start thinking about it. It is a great life to get a scholarship for college.”
Swanson said she chose Arizona because the school is top-ranked for her two areas of study – veterinary medicine and pharmacy. She visited the school during her sophomore year at Douglas and committed two weeks after.
“It is like a huge milestone in my life,” Swanson said. “You always dream of it happening, and here it is. It was a great day, because I have been here and see girls sign, and it was something I always wanted to do. I think it will push younger gymnasts and also parents to keep them in the sport and give them a goal. It shows that girls are getting scholarships.”
DeGouveia committed to Oklahoma without visiting and admitted that is not the norm.
“I had a great connection with the coaches,” said DeGouveia, a senior at Fort Lauderdale High School. “Their gymnastics team is amazing, and the school has great academics. They are working hard and progressing and were the 2014 national champions.”
She doesn’t think there will be pressure because of the success of the program.
“If anything,” said DeGouveia, a nine-year veteran of the sport, “it makes me want to push harder because I want to make their lineup when I get there, and I think I can do it. I want to be on a big stage like that.
“When I first started, I didn’t know what to expect,” DeGouveia said. “At that age, like any other girl who starts out, your dream is to go to the Olympics. I started looking at colleges when I came here two years ago. I’m glad stayed with the sport. … This is a huge birthday present.”
Other recent Twisters college signings since 2006 included Shynelle Agaron (Maryland), Sara Shipley (Kentucky), Gina Locigno (Bowling Green) and Gabriella Swanson (Bowling Green).
American Twisters’ competitive team coordinator, Gary Anderson, said there are seven additional gymnasts with the program who have given their verbal commitments for future years. Anderson said there are about 100 scholarships handed out yearly across the country by the nearly 50 college institutions offering the sport.
“It is extremely difficult to get a college scholarship,” Anderson said. “It doesn’t happen automatically. The girls have proven themselves over a period of time. The scholarships are usually awarded a year or two in advance. Even after they have done a verbal commitment to the scholarship, they must continue to improve and show their worth until signing day, which is in the fall of their senior year.”
Twisters Optional head coach Christina Ramirez said it was an exciting moment.
“It is always hard to lose any kid, but these two are very special,” Ramirez said. “You spend four hours a day with them, so it is hard when you watch them grow and they become young women. It is extremely exciting because they work so hard for that one moment, and when it is finally here and they get to sign, it’s surreal.”