In this latest interview, I talk to in my opinion one of the toughest, most determined, focused and self driven gymnasts Great Britain has ever produced. Every gymnast that makes it into the GB senior squad deserves huge admiration, they have worked, sacrificed, and dedicated their lives to their passion, in a way that few adults will ever manage, let alone children and teenagers, this is a given. Every one of them will have experienced highs and lows on their journey to elite level, and most will have had to battle with injury at some time or another. Very few however have faced the same level of physical and mental challenge as today’s interviewee, Great Britain and Sapphire School of Gymnastic senior, Gabby Jupp.
Having come up through the club grades system as opposed to national compulsories, In 2008 Gabby then entered and passed her national compulsory level two in age, making her eligible for the 2009 British Espoir championships as a first year Espoir (Compulsory 1 hadn’t been implemented at this time). In 2009 at her first British Championships, Gabby placed 35th AA (21st In the AA rankings without R+C), she then made the move to Sapphire School of Gymnastics to train with coaches Steve and Annie Price, and a year later she placed second AA at British Espoirs, taking gold on beam, and bronze on floor. With such strong results, Gabby was selected for national squad for the first time.
In 2011 as a first year junior, Gabby placed second at the English championships, collecting silver on beam, and bronze on bars and floor. Gabby then placed second AA at the British championships, adding silver on vault and floor, and taking the beam title.
In her final year as a junior, Gabby cemented her status as one of the strongest up and coming British gymnasts, taking the English AA title along with vault, beam and floor, and the British AA and bars titles. Inevitably Gabby was rewarded with a place on the Junior European team where she led the team to fourth place, and finished 5th AA individually, as well as making the beam final where she finished 6th, and the floor final where she took a historic bronze.
Gabby’s senior career is well documented, and she will speak about it more herself. British senior champion at her first attempt in 2013, as well as the bars and floor titles, and silver on bars. Sixth at the American Cup, and second on beam ahead of among others Simone Biles and Vanessa Ferrari, Gabby was flying. Then at Europeans the first major injury, an ACL tear in qualification. A year out in recovery, then back strongly enough to be selected for the 2014 world championships where she held the team to sixth place in team finals. One major injury, one remarkable recovery.
In to 2015, time to upgrade and push for places on the major teams as the long run in to Rio began. Gabby was working towards European championships at the start of the year, when she landed awkwardly training her Van Leuween on bars, and her her other ACL went. I had so much admiration for Gabby in the way she fought back from her first injury, when I heard of the second, I did wonder whether we would see her back again. It’s not just the injury, knowing that another year to eighteen months grueling rehab will be needed, it’s the crushing disappointment of working so hard to get back to where you were, only to have to start right from the beginning again.
Not only did Gabby fight back, she came so close to making the Rio team and was named as one of the official reserves. Four years a senior, two of which spent rehabbing, and she still managed to climb so high. Not just an extraordinary gymnast, clearly an extraordinary young woman.
So lets hear from Gabby herself:
Hi Gabby, and thank you for agreeing to this interview. Lets start with your earlier career, you had a very successful junior career, and the best start to your senior. Can you talk a little about how you were feeling after the American Cup then the British championships in 2013? After the previous couple of years, and such a strong start, did you feel a sense of positive momentum having been so successful?
I remember the start of 2013 was a very busy time. I had the American cup, then a European trial, the British Champs and the day after that I flew to Doha for the World Cup. Then after that it was Europeans so it was all a bit of a blur. I remember being told I was doing the American Cup and I was so excited but also extremely nervous. I was only a first year senior and I didn’t have the most difficult routines but I think that competition was so good for me and my confidence. The British Champs could not have gone much better for me and then to win two World Cup medals in Doha was such an incredible feeling.
Can you talk through the first injury, I understand you weren’t sure of the seriousness to begin with? You were still only fifteen at the time, and on such a positive roll as the top British senior gymnast. How did you deal emotionally with accepting you would be out for a long time? How did you approach your rehab, were you able to bring your focus from training to your recovery?
When I found out that I had torn my ACL I was absolutely gutted. I was told that I would be out for a year to 18 months so that was a very long time. It was my first big injury and I was just so determined to get back.
What was the most difficult part of returning from the first injury? Did you have the same confidence in yourself as a gymnast?
It was a lot harder to get back than I ever thought it would have been. It was hard to accept that my body couldn’t do the same numbers and training as it used to before my injury and I had to change some of the skills that I used to feel comfortable doing because of my knee.
You made it back to be selected for world championships in 2014 which is an extraordinary achievement, can you explain how you felt when all of your hard work both in rehab and training paid off for you? How did you find world championships, were you nervous having not competed much then suddenly being at the highest level of competition?
Looking back at that World Championships I am very proud of my performance but at the time I was quite disappointed. I had very bad shin pain so I had to adjust my routines and make them easier to cope with the pain. I think that knocked my confidence because I wanted to come back from my knee injury with a ‘bang’ but that didn’t really happen. I was extremely nervous, especially for team final because I fell in qualifications but I went 3/3 in finals and looking back I am very proud because I put myself under a lot of pressure.
The second injury came at the beginning of 2015, with Rio less than eighteen months away, what went through your mind when it happened?
It was weird because I always thought that if it ever happened again I couldn’t go through that pain/process again, but straight away when I did it I knew I wasn’t finished and I wanted to carry on.
Was there any point when you thought you weren’t prepared to go through the rehab again knowing what it would entail? Was it hard at times to watch the rest of the British squad in training and competition as you recovered?
Rio was obviously a massive motivation to get back. During my rehab the British girls were doing very well and although I was really pleased for them it was difficult because I desperately wanted to be a part of it.
Your attitude to disappointment and dedication to recovery sets such a positive example for others struggling with serious injury. There are several young seniors dealing with the disappointment of long term injuries, and with that trying to find acceptance in missing out on goals they will have been aiming towards for years. Have you been able to use your experiences to support others going through a similar process?
I have been told by a few people that having recovered from my set backs I have provided them with hope and the inspiration to recover from their own. That’s really amazing to hear and helps to keep me going.
Your coaches have been with you every step of the way, I know as a senior British gymnast a lot of time is spent at Lilleshall both when healthy and rehabbing, but how important has your home club Sapphire, your coaches and team mates been to you through both the great, and the tough times?
My coaches at Sapphire have been with me all the way, through the good times and the bad times. These experiences have made us a strong unit. My team mate Teal Grindle had shoulder surgery around the time I tore my other ACL, so we leaned on each other for support and helped each other through the bad days.
You are and have always been a very clean gymnast, which seems to be trait of Sapphire gymnastics. Is execution a big focus for your club? Is it important to you that you only perform what you can do cleanly?
Our philosophy is to focus on execution. My coaches and I pride ourselves on clean work.
You are a very confident and reliable beam worker, what would you say are the keys to your success on this piece?
Thank you! I have always enjoyed training beam, it’s my favourite piece. My coach always made me do a lot of numbers when I was younger and we worked hard on making sure the routines flowed.
On bars, you seem to have the understanding of working with the bounce of the apparatus, and the clear sense of timing which all strong bars workers possess. Has this always been the case for you on a piece where many struggle with these aspects?
No this hasn’t always been the case. My shape and lines have definitely improved as I have got older. My routine as a first year senior was quite simple but clean. Since my injuries I have worked really hard on my bars in general and it has probably become my best piece.
Can you tell us about wearing gloves under your handgurads, as I recall this isn’t something you have always done, and it’s not something we see very often at all.
My hands use to rip all the time and so I couldn’t just have days off to let them heal otherwise I would never be on the bars. Some of the girls from The Academy wore them so I tried and now I hardly ever rip.
It was great to see you back in competition this year, warming up at the Welsh Open and British Teams, then taking the British bars title. After everything, how did it feel to hit your bars at the British, and become a British champion once again?
Well I rolled my ankle at the British teams so my build up to the British was a rushed one. I was going to compete bars and beam but I tweaked my knee the day before podium training. Mentally I was a bit panicked and upset, so to compete one piece and to win it was the best feeling. That was the first time since my first ACL tear where I have felt like I’m back to where I want to be.
Going back to the beginning of 2016, where were you in terms of recovery, at that point ?
Start of the year we went to Rio for a training camp and for the first time in a long time I was training all four pieces so I was really happy with where I was at.
You were selected for European championships, and again found yourself in the position of heading to a major competition having not competed at that level for some time. You did a fantastic job for the team, and made the bars final, can you talk a little about how you felt the championships went for you, how it felt to be out there again, and what were your personal highlights?
It was good to be at the euros competing with my teammates. I was pleased to go clean for the team in the qualifying and team final and it was great getting the silver medal.
Having come so close to Rio selection, now a little time has passed, are you able to more feel pride in how far you have come against such extraordinary odds, and see just how well you have done to get so far?
When I look back I have to acknowledge that maybe I am a bit hard on myself. It is really hard work getting back from an ACL tear so getting back from two is an achievement in it’s own right and sometimes I forget that.
Looking towards the future, I myself, and the entire gymnastics community are very happy to see you are carrying on. Have you set yourself any targets as yet for the next quad, what are your hopes for 2017? Are their any new skills you are hoping to put out there when the competition season begins?
I am going to take every day as it comes and hopefully there will be a few more good experiences along the way. Hopefully I can put out some new skills in the next quad and just really enjoy my gymnastics.
Finally, what does gymnastics mean to you, and what has it taught you about yourself?
It has been my life since I was six years old and there have been a number of highs and lows along the way. Those experiences have really tested my metal strength to the limit. I have learnt that gymnastics is a team game where the support from your coaches, medical team and the English Institute of Sport staff has been crucial. I can’t thank them all enough!
A bit thank you to Gabby for taking the time to do this interview, and I know we all wish her the best of luck for 2017 and beyond.