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A Routine Crafted Early On

(Editor's Note: The following feature was recently published in the Spring 2014 edition of Kaleidoscope.)

Imagine a workday that starts at 7 in the morning and ends at 10 at night and breaking up those 15 hours between two office locations. It would be a grueling schedule for any professional and one that would require an extraordinary level of time management and organizational skills to be successful. Now, imagine that it’s not a seasoned professional at all. In fact, it’s a typical schedule faced by a teenage gymnast and one Brockport senior Lexi King ’14 has lived.

Prior to even coming to Brockport and becoming a part of history with the College’s women’s gymnastics team, King recalls what a typical day was like growing up in Glendale, Ariz. Her school day would run from 7 am to 2 pm, and she would then return home for a snack and start on her homework. At around 4 pm, it was time to head to the gym and work out for 3-4 more hours before returning home for dinner and finishing her homework. By the time her day was over, it was just a few hours before she would repeat that schedule again.

With fewer and fewer high schools sponsoring gymnastics programs, a great majority of aspiring gymnasts have no choice but to hone their skills at the club level and schedule their workouts on their own. Being able to balance classes, workouts and homework becomes a way of life. It’s a mindset that requires superior organization, the ability to plan ahead and to maximize one’s time. In King’s case – and for most gymnasts heading to college – she already had mastered the fundamental skills required to be a successful college student.

Gymnastics has been a part of King’s life since she was three, and she started competing when she was 10. When Brockport became an option for her to continue her gymnastics career, it didn’t take long for her to know where she would attend college.

“I came here for a recruiting trip and absolutely fell in love with the school and the campus and how small it was,” says King. “It was more like a family environment with the gymnastics team and that was the deciding factor for me.”

King is a member of the Honors College as well as a recipient of the College’s Extraordinary Academic Scholarship. She has been a SUNYAC All-Academic multiple times. Her balancing act as a student-athlete goes beyond gymnastics and the classroom. It also includes preparing for life after Brockport.

An exercise physiology major, King’s career aspiration is to go to medical school for orthopedic surgery and work with athletes. That’s another reason Brockport was a great fit for her with its strong athletic training program. As part of her degree requirements, King spent 15-20 hours per week working in the athletic training room during the fall of her senior year. She was assigned to specific Brockport athletic teams, which required an additional commitment to work various events.

The architect of Brockport’s unparalleled gymnastics success is former Golden Eagle and longtime head coach John Feeney ’76. A three-time National Collegiate Gymnastics Association Coach of the Year, Feeney quickly elevated a winless program when he took over in 1999 to one that is consistently among the nation’s best. In 2012, his team captured the national title.

“It still amazes me to this day that we won a national championship. We made history here,” says King. “We were the first female team to win a national championship. I’ll always reflect on it, and I’ll always see it as an amazing accomplishment as a team and as a school.”

For Feeney, the athletic accomplishments are important, but not the most important. A critical factor in his program’s success is the basic approach he instills in his student-athletes. The top priority is family, followed by academics and then athletics. For most, the realization is that the athletics part of their lives is quickly coming to a close.

“Gymnastics is unique in the fact that after college there’s really not much else you can do with it,” says King. “You can coach, but you’re not doing gymnastics professionally whereas in other sports you can move on if you are skilled enough. Coach Feeney puts it into our brains that these are our last four years so you better make the most of it.”

Under Feeney’s watch, Brockport’s gymnastics program has become a model of achievement both in and out of the classroom. It’s a microcosm of the College’s mission of student success.

“I’m almost happier that they all succeed in the real world versus gymnastics,” says Feeney. “I try to teach them all about effort. If you learn a good work ethic and put in the effort, then you’re going to go out in the real world and be successful. You’re going to be able to move up the ladder because you’re putting forth effort in your job.

“Every single person who comes here does so because he or she can get a good degree, and we have a successful program,” he adds. “If you go to a school like Brockport, it’s going to help you get into the graduate program of your choice.”

As an alumnus, Feeney himself is an example of student success. Prior to taking the head coaching post at the College, he spent several years as both a high school and club level coach with a number of team and individual championships. Now, King and her current teammates are the latest generation of students to benefit from time spent under Feeney’s leadership.

“I get to teach kids, challenge them and make them better people,” says Feeney.