NCAA two-time World Champion artistic gymnast and Texas native Hollie Vise is no stranger to the spotlight.
Vise comes from a family of athletes that includes her mother, brothers and famous grandfather, Dallas resident Burton Gilliam, a Golden Gloves boxer for the US Coast Guard who won over 200 fights and was also a TV and film actor. (Gilliam is most noted for his role in the movie “Blazing Saddles.”)
During her gymnastics pursuit, Vise (now a girls gymnastics team coach at the family business, USA Youth Fitness Center in Arizona) was known for her long body lines, graceful style and extreme flexibility. One of her signature skills on the beam was her mount, where the young gymnast jumped to a chest stand and then arched her legs over. She also performed a needle scale. These two poses were very photogenic and contributed to Vise’s fame.
All this seemingly effortless grace began with a lot of hard work — beginning when Vise was three years. Her mother, who’d also done gymnastics growing up, thought her young daughter would enjoy it. “From the moment I stepped foot into my first gym, I just loved it! I begged to go all the time and when I wasn’t at the gym, I was still doing gymnastics at home, at the park, anywhere I could,” says Vise. “Gymnastics was pretty much my whole life growing up.”
Today, this champion lives in Arizona, is married to Alex Naddour, also an elite gymnast, and has two young children. The couple both coach gymnastics at USA Youth Fitness Center. Both kids are enrolled in gymnastics and already filled with the same enthusiasm as their parents. “It is fun watching my kids have so much fun doing the sport I love,” says Vise.
A Long Journey
Growing up, Vise set herself the goal of competing in the Olympics. Ultimately, the Texan wasn’t selected. Looking back, she realizes that making it to the 2004 Olympics was not the most important part of her journey, and applauds her coaches, Yevgeny Marchenko and Natasha Boyarskaya. Learning many valuable life lessons along the journey that striving for the Olympics led her on, was the greatest experience, she says.
“The people I met, the friendships I made, the places I travelled and the memories I made were priceless,” says Vise. It wasn’t always easy. In fact, it was very hard and took a lot of discipline. In the end, though, it was extremely rewarding. “I fell short of making the Olympic team but I know now that everything happens for a reason. I believe it put me on an even better path,” she says.
That better path led to her competing at The University of Oklahoma. At first, though, it was hard for the 16-year-old to find the motivation to continue training. In her Olympic disappointment, she ended up taking a break from the sport before heading to OU.
For the world’s sake, thank goodness Vise persevered! She again credits her coaches. “At OU the coaches really understood what I needed. They helped me find my love for the sport again and I had a very successful NCAA career.” (Editor’s note: Her career was indeed successful. Hollie Vise became a three-time All-American, the 2010 NCAA runner-up on bars and floor and the 2010 Big 12 Conference Sportswoman of the Year.)
An Athlete’s Life
Highs and Lows
Most frustrating moment: “When I didn’t make the Olympic team… I had a hard time figuring out why I had put all of this time and effort in.”
Most rewarding moment: “At OU when our team qualified into Super 6 at the National Championships for the first time in history. We also ended up finishing 2nd in the Super 6 competition that year which was an amazing jump for the program. It was an amazing feeling being a part of that team that helped bring OU to the next level in NCAA gymnastics.”
Vises’ Olympic goal was blocked by an injury. Her back started hurting badly a few months before the team selection. The run-up to selection is packed with competitions and camps which left her little time to let her back heal. “I ended up having bulging discs and getting a couple of cortisone shots to help with the pain so I could continue training,” she explains. “It was definitely bad timing but sometimes it happens, and I just dealt with it the best that I could.”
What it Takes
Being an elite gymnast is no small feat. It takes a lot of natural talent; it takes someone that will give their best effort day in and day out; it takes a willingness to give a lot of your time to training; and it means being fearless, Vise says, without having to pause for thought. “You have to know how to deal with pain, and it takes a lot of mental toughness… It really does take a combination of so many things.”
Making a Difference
The two-time world champ has some advice for others who want to excel at gymnastics. Most importantly, “just to give it your all every day. If you do that, no matter the outcome, you won’t have any regrets.”
However, the first thing to do is to make sure you find a gym with the right training atmosphere and coaches you can communicate with. “As a coach now, I don’t push my athletes in the direction of elite gymnastics. If they express that goal to me, I will do my best to help them achieve it,” she says. Her main aim as a coach is to help each child reach their full potential as a gymnast and, as she explains, that can be a very different end goal, depending on the individual.
“Many gymnasts today have the goal of becoming a collegiate gymnast which I think is a great opportunity,” she says. Yet, when coaching she always express the importance of having balance in their life. “I think this keeps them happy and wanting to continue doing gymnastics. I really don’t want them missing out on their childhood.”
Cover photo courtesy Hollie Vise/Julie Sylvester, 29:11 Photography
Bob Valleau is a freelance writer living in McKinney, Texas.