Little Miss Sunshine

By By Tony Pizza and By Tony Pizza

By Tony Pizza

There is a bumper sticker that reads, “Life is?never mind, my daughter’s a gymnast, I HAVE no life.” While U gymnast Nina Kim’s parents are no strangers to the sacrifices necessary in gymnastics, Sanya and Jong Wook Kim began making bigger relinquishments for Nina’s sake before she could even touch a balance beam.

Before Nina Kim was born, her parents picked up and moved from their home in South Korea and traveled more than halfway around the world. They came to America, without the ability to say much of anything outside the Korean language, just so they could have the chance at a better life for themselves and their future children.

“They didn’t even speak English when they came here,” Nina Kim said. “Now my mom owns her own salon, and my dad owns his own business. It’s hard for me, and I was born here?I go to school here and I have all these opportunities. It’s just amazing for me.”

That initial sacrifice by Nina Kim’s parents allowed a plethora of opportunities to open up for their daughter, including a chance to obtain a college education while competing on one of the best collegiate gymnastics teams in the country. But the decision to come to Utah wasn’t exactly an obvious choice.

To begin with, Nina Kim wasn’t even sure she wanted to compete in gymnastics after all of her friends left the World Olympic Gymnastics Academy (WAGO) in Dallas, Texas, a year before she did. As a result, Nina Kim found herself in a mental slump in 2005.

“I took two months off, where I didn’t do gymnastics at all, before I came here. It was a really hard year for me,” she said. “It was good to take that year off, because I realized how much I had.”

At first, Nina Kim wasn’t even sure why she was considering the U. Kim even remembers telling herself, “I’m not going to pick Utah, why am I coming here?” when she was at the airport. But another freshman that had already committed to Utah helped change her mind.

“I’ve known her for a long time?we clicked like ‘that’ on our recruiting trip,” Kristina Baskett said. “She talked to me a lot about Utah, and I think because I felt like I fit well here?I think she had the same feeling.”

From then on, the now-sophomore duo of Baskett and Nina Kim has grown even stronger. They even share the basement of a house that is co-occupied by fellow teammates Jessica Duke and Beth Rizzo, who share the upstairs.

Though Nina Kim has developed a sister-like relationship with Baskett, she also has a unique role with the rest of her teammates.

“She’s the class clown,” said captain Nicolle Ford. “(With) the stuff that comes out of her mouth, she keeps everyone in a good mood.”

It’s not that Nina Kim tries to be a stand-up comedian, either. According to her teammates, she just has an interesting way of saying the most random things at the most appropriate times to keep things very relaxed around the gym.

“If it’s a bad mood for everybody, she’ll be the one to say something that everybody will stop for a second?then everybody will crack up laughing,” Baskett said. “She can really lighten up a room.”

Nina Kim also has an extra special way of brightening up her roommate’s day.

“She has this really big Eeyore nightgown that she likes to whip out sometimes,” Baskett said. “The best thing is, she knows it’s completely nerdy, but she doesn’t care.”

Aside from being one of the “silliest people” on the team, Nina Kim brings a certain grace to the team that is hard to find.

“She brings a different kind of beauty to gymnastics,” Ford said. “She’s pretty to watch, especially on beam.”

Nina Kim, who competed in the all-around for the Utes at the end of last season, has to compete in the all-around this year, as her floor routine is not quite up to par yet. Still, Nina Kim has found a way to contribute to the team.

Already the Houston native has provided the Red Rocks with some important performances on the other events-including a career best (9.925) on bars two weeks ago against Utah State.

Nina Kim admits she probably never would have had the opportunity to compete at this level of college gymnastics without the help of some important people in her life. When she was 15 years old, she got the opportunity to attend WAGO with the help of the Dowlen family, who let Nina Kim live with them while she attended the Dallas-based gym. The move, however, was not easy.

For three years, Nina Kim struggled to cope with the distance that tugged at her close relationship with her mother, while simultaneously adjusting to life in a non-Korean home.

“It was hard. There were many nights that I just cried myself to sleep. I was young, but I got used to it,” Nina Kim said.

Despite recently coming to better terms with it, Nina Kim has also had trouble accepting the duality of her nationality. She found it hard to be proud to be Korean while being teased at school. Now she has come to appreciate the fact that she is both American and Korean.

“I had a hard time accepting that I am Korean and I am different from other people,” Nina Kim said. “I appreciate it more because, this last summer, I went to Korea and I loved it. When I have kids, I hope to teach them Korean and some of the culture.”

For now, Nina Kim will concentrate on helping her team capture another national title, while providing a sense of humor that is hard not to like.

Christopher Peddecord

Nina Kim poses on the bars after practice in the Dumke Gymnastics Center on Feb. 13.