It Takes a Team: Winona State Gymnastics on mentally coping with pandemic

Warrior gymnastics may not have had meets canceled like fall sports, but being kept from their practice floors and weight rooms have put stress on a once-normal routine.

“It was really challenging, because my days looked completely different,” junior gymnast Kaitlyn West said. “Not only did I not have practice at the beginning of the year, I didn’t have lift, I didn’t have the same team events that we normally had.”

A spring NCAA survey reported that out of almost 40,000 respondents, 1 in 10 felt so depressed it was difficult to get up each day. Winona State’s head coach Aixa Evenson, herself a former Warrior gymnast, has emphasized team communication during the time away.

“We make sure there’s communication about what went well today, what are some things we can improve on?” she said. “I’ve shifted my perspective into going, what are some things I needed that I maybe wasn’t realizing I needed or getting an advocate for, and how can I be that for them?”

“I don’t think gymnastics was brought up once in my meeting with Aixa,” West said. “It was more me as a person, which is a lot different from other coaching experiences I’ve had.”

West says her campus is also receptive to the mental strain the pandemic has put on the entire student body, from counseling sessions on Zoom or a campus-wide show of solidarity known as the Green Bandana Project.

“Everybody who has a green bandana on their backpack is silently saying they’re a mental health advocate, and that they’re there for everybody,” West explained.

Athletes like West have also taken up new experiences to fill the void of a normal offseason. For her, that meant getting involved with Warriors Vote, where students volunteer to speak virtually with classrooms and encourage campus voter registration.

“It sounded like a really cool experience to use my visibility through athletics for a greater purpose,” West said. “It’s been a really cool experience and definitely something that it’s helped to have some free time to do.”

Finding a new routine hasn’t been easy, but West says making those life adjustments has paid off, and it makes life even sweeter for when practices resume.

“Now that we’re almost done with the semester, I feel like we’re getting it under control.”