MELANIE: So I was very young and only remember a little bit about training with him. I just have one experience that stands out. And we were doing a warm up. And I think we were running around the floor for like 20 minutes doing like candle stick jumps and tuck jumps and push ups and running from thing to thing to thing. And girls were dropping like flies. Throwing up here and there. And that was one experience and I was like oh my gosh, Bela Karolyi’s so hard. I think it was my very first training camp. And I was like oh man what did I get myself into? And then I think after that experience, I think my next camp it was Martha and it was completely different. So, I’m glad things kind of evolved.
[EXPRESS YOURSELF INTRO MUSIC]
JESSICA: Today, our review of Cirque du Soleil’s Amaluna, and special guest Cirque artist, NCAA great, and former elite gymnast Melanie Sinclaire.
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JESSICA: This is episode 74 for January 31, 2014. I’m Jessica from masters-gymnastics
UNCLE TIM: I’m Uncle Tim from Uncle Tim Talks Men’s Gym
JESSICA: And this is the best gymnastics podcast in the world, bringing you all the most fascinating people and events from around the gymternet. Today we’re going to talk specifically about our review of the show Amaluna. Then we’re going to talk to Melanie Sinclaire, who’s in the show. And she was at Florida, University of Florida, she was at Orlando Metro before that, and she is one of those that you never forget because of her incredible pizzazz and style. And she’s one of the gymnasts who put University of Florida on the map. So excited to talk to her. So that’s coming up. First let’s give our review of Amaluna. Warning: there are some spoilers in here. So if you don’t like to know anything about the show, then fast forward to the Melanie Sinclaire interview. In the meantime, let me tell you, let me give the disclaimer about our review. So our ratings are based on the original factors that made Cirque du Soleil an international hit. It was a circus without animals, without an obnoxious ring master, or any of the trappings of the cheesey ta-da moment. It was pure human peak performance. And that is what we think gymnastics fans love about Cirque du Soleil, so that is that basis for our review. So Uncle Tim, if you would, could you give our listeners a little bit of info about the plot line?
UNCLE TIM: Sure. So I mean let’s be honest, typically Cirque shows are powered by high octane man beef. Not so much with Amaluna. It stars a young girl named Miranda. And it’s her coming of age tale. Not unlike Wonder Woman, Miranda lives in an Amazonian world inhabited by badass females like Melanie Sinclaire and Laura Ann Chong. And on this island, Miranda has nothing to do except play with her pet lizard. And that’s not a euphemism Jess. Miranda really does have a lizard.
JESSICA: She does
UNCLE TIM: -who was played by award winning juggler Victor Key. And I’m not going to lie, he made me feel all tingly in a way I thought a lizard would never make me feel. Did you agree with that Jess?
JESSICA: He does provide the much needed- not much needed, but just appreciated, let me tell you, male sexual energy on stage. And he really I mean I find juggling incredibly boring. Like I could sleep through that whole part of any show with juggling. But Victor adds a special kind of sexiness and barely wears anything the entire time he juggles. So I appreciate him very very much.
UNCLE TIM: Yeah I was hoping that Victor, the lizard, would become a man and Miranda would fall in love with him. But it was not to be. Because one day a bevy of hot men wash ashore on the island. And they’re trapped and writhing in a net. And one of them escapes and his name of course is Romeo. Very subtle on Cirque’s part there. Miranda sees Romeo, they flirt a bit, and at the end of the first act, things turn into a wet tshirt contest. Both Romeo and Miranda are wearing sheer white garments and they take the plunge so to speak. They kiss and throw themselves with wild abandon into a small basin of water. And then the lights go out. Whatever could that symbolize?
JESSICA: Before that, I believe that she hands him an egg. Her own egg. Because it’s sort of see through so I believe she’s handing him an ovum. Is that what they’re called? It’s very very literal, this show. So I thought it was an ovum the whole time.
UNCLE TIM: Yeah throughout the show there’s this ball that’s kind of gets transported from one person to the next. And it’s a way of foreshadowing the juggling scene. But yeah. So I mean, I don’t want to prattle on about the plot. So it’s a love story about Romeo and Miranda. Basically that’s it. We really want to talk about the gymnastics here Jess. And Jessica I know that you loved the Amazonian warrior princesses because you were hooting and hollering the entire time. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about that acrobatic scene.
JESSICA: The Amazons have created the most fantastic marriage between old school bars and new school bars. So there is a set of bars with four bars. And imagine old school bars are on one side facing the new school bars on the other. So people can do wrap the bar and beat the bar on one side. On the other side they can do paks in between the bars. And it is the freaking coolest thing I’ve ever seen. It should be a new FIG event. It needs to be a new and implemented immediately. They do everything from jaeger in between the bars from high to low, old school, to korbut flips standing on the bar and doing a back flip and catching the same bar, to branis from the low bar up to the high bar. Jaegers on the high bar, and all the skills that you’re used to seeing now in elite gymnastics. And totally creative circus-y stuff that I’ve never seen before that you’ll only see in a show like this. One of the coolest things I think is they travel all the way like one person will travel all the way across all four bars. High to low to low high and back the other way again. They’ll be four people all on the bar at the same time. I cannot emphasize enough that this is one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen and how this could really honestly be a new event in gymnastics. I loved it that much. What did you think Uncle Tim?
UNCLE TIM: I thought it was impressive but I thought that you were definitely more impressed than the rest of the audience. I just don’t think the audience appreciated the pummeling that those girls’ hips went through as they were beat on the bar and wrapping around the low bar doing the old school bars. What they audience really appreciated was when they took out the low bars and they just had two single rails and the girls started throwing bigger dismounts. There was a full twisting double layout. And that’s what the audience really got into it I thought. But yeah, I thought it was really cool as a gymnastics nerd and definitely worth seeing.
JESSICA: The other act we completely loved is when the Amazons wrangled their sex slave prisoners. Of course everybody knows that’s what they are. I’m sure I’m not the only one that interpreted it that way because on Wonder Woman’s planet, and I’m sure everyone has read her origin story and had the Bible of Superhero Origins by their bed and read it every night like I did, you will know that on her Amazon planet they only keep men as sex slaves for procreation. So because this show is based on female goddess planet or island, it’s an island.
UNCLE TIM: To tie into the plot these sex slaves are the guys who washed ashore with Romeo and were caught in the net. So. Continue.
JESSICA: So the Amazons sort of wrangled them then let them sort of play a little bit outside of their prison. And they do teter board. And one of the coolest things they do on teter board, something I’ve never seen before which is really unique is that they have a third platform. So there’s the teter board then in between it there’s sort of a matted half wall that they can bounce on and off of and land on and transfer people over. And it is such a fun, high energy scene. They keep it funny. They’re giggling and laughing the whole time. It kind of has a rock n roll music theme to the whole show. So there’s nothing that is the stop everything let’s be really serious. The whole show is just having fun and getting punk rock the whole time. So that was also one of my favorite ones. It was super original. I had never seen a third factor added into teter board before.
UNCLE TIM: Yeah I mean teter board is so cool. One guy went from one end of the teter board to the other and he flew up into handstand and landed in a handstand in a guy’s hands. Yeah just really cool stuff. And the fact that there was that extra little board that they were landing on was cool. And I mean I don’t even know if Lindsay precision Mable could do that. Do you think Lindsay precision Mable could do that Jess?
JESSICA: I think she could learn it
UNCLE TIM: Ok
JESSICA: I think she could be the one Amazon guard who breaks in and is confident enough to play with the prisoners because she knows she could precision fly herself right out of there, teter her way out of the situation if she needed to. That’s how awesome she is.
UNCLE TIM: Yeah. And I can’t imagine landing on that little board because it looks hard. Just during a photo shoot once I had to do standing back tuck after standing back tuck on hard floor and I was practically crying because it hurt so much. Now I can’t even imagine falling 15 feet in the air onto this hard board. How much that would hurt. So these guys were definitely the high octane man beef that I was talking about at the beginning of this review. So.
JESSICA: Yeah the show was like 75% women. And even the band is all women. So it’s definitely like the men are strategically placed and are very enjoyable in their goofy acrobatic act. The next one act that I totally loved was the swinging Sirens. It’s the aerial straps. So it’s three Sirens who are swinging from the ceiling by straps, sometimes one, sometimes two. And they are way up there, way over the audience. It’s almost like rings. So what do you call that when you front flip?
UNCLE TIM: A yamawaki?
JESSICA: Yeah they’re yamawaking right above the crowd. There’s one that even you know there’s a control that makes the straps go up and down. So there’s one person even sort of flips and lands on the stairs in the crowd then goes back in and it is really really fun and you are on the edge of your seat the whole time. It’s one of the most creative ways that I’ve seen that done. A lot of times it’s done in sort of a it’s majestic and beautiful and slow. And this was like 100 miles an hour and super fun and lots of guitar and drums and you never knew where they were going to go next or if they were going to smash into each other. It was just really really fun.
UNCLE TIM: Yeah it was a little like Pink at the Grammys where she was over the audience and stuff. And it’s really, I mean I like Cirque shows when they break what’s called the fourth wall and they actually interact a little bit with the audience. So yeah I thought that was really cool. And hey Jess I don’t want to get all pretentious English major on you but I’m going to. Those weren’t Sirens. They were the Valkyries. Do you know what a Valkyrie is?
JESSICA: Yes except they’re sort of like angels right? The Sirens would be the ones that call you to your death and the Valkyrie are sort of a angel-esque, you can expand on that.
UNCLE TIM: They’re Norse goddesses who decide whether people in battle should live or die. And so it’s this big dramatic moment in the show because you’re wondering what happened to Romeo because he rode a pole up to the heavens earlier.
JESSICA: Literally he rides a pole
UNCLE TIM: Up to the heavens
JESSICA: We enjoyed that very much
UNCLE TIM: During a Chinese pole act, yeah. Anyway so you don’t know what’s going to happen to Romeo. And you don’t know whether they’re going to let him live or let him die. And that’s why the fact that they’re Valkyries is really important. But while we’re talking about the end, huge spoiler coming for our listeners. Jess, I know that you did not like the end. Why was that?
JESSICA: No because ok, it’s like you’re on you’re this young girl and you’re being initiated into this realm of goddesses with Amazons and the Valkyrie and these amazing incredibly gifted warrior women all around you. And basically she hooks up with this dude. And then she was in a white bikini by the way, symbolism, hooks up with the dude then all the sudden there’s a marriage thing at the end. What? What does she need him for? Clearly because we all know this is really based on Wonder Woman’s planet. Wonder Woman would’ve been like I will use you for as my lover and enjoy you, but I will always keep my freedom because that’s how goddesses and warrior women and Amazons roll. Everybody knows that. There would be no wedding are you kidding me? This isn’t a Disney movie. But aside from that, my disappointment with the ending, I thoroughly enjoyed it. And the woman who plays the young woman coming of age did the most amazing hand balancing act I have ever seen hands down. What did you think of the ending?
UNCLE TIM: I mean, well, it’s not true that Wonder Woman never gets married right? She does get married depending on the story. She gets married to Steve Trevor at one point. Anyway but back to the matter at hand. I mean, yeah, I guess-
JESSICA: James Bond was married for a second too but you know that stuff never lasts.
UNCLE TIM: Anyways. So. This isn’t a comics podcast this is a gymnastics one.
JESSICA: That’s coming up later
UNCLE TIM: I think that it could’ve been cool to have different story, but I think that that story is a story that’s always been told. The marriage you know. So I feel like if you’re going to play with all these mythologies and you’re going to draw upon all these different mythologies, you should I don’t know, maybe end with marriage. Although you know Romeo and Juliet does not end with marriage really. Suicide.
JESSICA: They rode a pole to heaven together
UNCLE TIM: Yeah. So you know. I’m glad it didn’t end with a suicide let’s be honest. But-
JESSICA: That’s always a plus
UNCLE TIM: Yeah. I don’t know what would be the alternate ending that you would like to have?
JESSICA: Well, I would’ve liked her to have also taken her pet male sexy juggling who juggled the moons or the cycle of one’s period. That’s what he juggled. You’ll know what I mean when you see the show. I don’t know- they dropped from-
UNCLE TIM: 28
JESSICA: 28. 28 days in the cycle. Moon cycle. Periods. Yes. And he was always running around with the apple and we all know what that means. So I was kind of hoping she would take him as a lover. He was sort of the snake in the Garden of Eden. And why does she need to limit herself to this one dude who washed up on the beach? I mean I would’ve liked to see her to enjoy all of the fruits of the earth and maintain her independence and join the Amazons and jump up on the bars in a red suit. That’s what I would like to see. See her doing giants into the rest of her life. The bars fade into the distance. That’s what I would’ve liked.
UNCLE TIM: And so let’s- on that note, let’s change gears here and why don’t you tell us what your overall rating of this show was and why.
JESSICA: So my overall rating, wait before I get to that I just want to before I forget I want to tell you guys the NCAA superstars that are in this show who do the uneven bars act. So there’s Amy DeFilippo from SCATS. She went to Arkansas. She’s in that. There’s Melissa Hernandez from Illinois. Summer Hubbard from LSU is in it. Lindsay Brook-Iote from Michigan. Melanie Sinclaire of course from Florida. Brittany Urbane, she had a different last name when she went to Iowa but she was at Iowa. And then Laura Ann Chong from Oregon was in it as well. And she’s also from Canada. So it was like a who’s who of awesome bar workers of NCAA when they got out there. I was losing it as Uncle Tim can attest to. Overall, I am going to give this a 4 out of 5 star rating because, and the only reason I’m not giving it 5 stars is I was not in love with the clowns. I think they need to work on their chemistry a little bit. The clowns were just off somehow I think a little bit. And I enjoy some goofy ass humor that a little kid would like as you guys know. So I think I’m a good judge of clowns. So I’m going to give it 4 out of 5 stars. Absolutely see this. Gymnastics fans will love this show. Absolutely freaking love this show. You will not be able to get enough of it and you will freak out like I did during the bars act. And yeah I can’t say enough good things about it. It’s in San Jose right now so if you’re there go see this show. You will totally love it. I can’t recommend it strongly enough.
UNCLE TIM: Yeah as you were saying it was in San Jose right now. And then the next place it’s heading is New York. And that will, the New York show will open on March 20 so if you live in the New York area you should check it out because I have a similar rating to you Jess. I really loved it. And in honor of my reptilian boyfriend Victor Key, I’m giving this show 4 flaming balls out of 5. JESSICA: He would totally appreciate that I think for sure.
UNCLE TIM: Yes
JESSICA: If anyone would appreciate that, he would
UNCLE TIM: So really he does juggle five flaming balls at the end-
JESSICA: He does
UNCLE TIM: of his juggling act so it’s perfect. So four flaming balls out of five. I love the acrobatics. I loved you know even though it didn’t have the high octane man meat going on I think that it was just a really great show. And I think that it’s still combined a decent storyline with cool gymnastics tricks. And yeah I agree the clowns were not the funniest. That was probably the big downfall. So we’re pretty much on the same page Jessica.
JESSICA: Yay. So now that we have told you all about the show, before we get to Melanie Sinclaire, we have to issue a strong, the very strongest apology to Scott Bregman. We said that- well it wasn’t me, so Uncle Tim you should really do it.
UNCLE TIM: I said that Scott Bregman was not on his A game because he did not have the videos up from camp by Monday January 27th. But, he totally totally totally exceeded all of our expectations today, because he put up a video of Simone Biles throwing a Cheng, Simone Biles throwing a khorkina on bars, throwing a layout stepout layout stepout combination on beam. He was on his A++ game today. So, we’re sorry that we criticized you, Scott.
JESSICA: You. You. Don’t bring me into this.
UNCLE TIM: Oh whatever. You left it in the show when you edited it.
JESSICA: I did!
UNCLE TIM: So you’re also to blame. But we are very sorry and we appreciate all the hard work that you do for us, Scott. And you keep the gymternet going. You are a pillar of the gymternet community.
JESSICA: Wow that was really good. That was a very good apology. And one thing I want to note is when the videos aren’t up right away, they have to be approved by like three people before he’s allowed to put them up. So it’s not like he’s the final deciding factor. Because I’m sure he would beam them directly to the gymternet from his very eyeballs if he could. But you know. It goes through a little bit of a process before he can put them up. Speaking of that I wanted to just correct myself, a little fact check from the last episode, which is that- and I was talking of course about my personal interpretation and what stood out to me from John Orozco’s interview. But I was talking about the tour having a full time athletic trainer. And the tour didn’t start with a full time athletic trainer, but by the time that they got to Tennessee I think it was where John hurt himself there was a full time trainer on tour. So I’m glad eventually there was a full time trainer and I hope that continues. So now we have a special song for you, just for you, Scott Bregman. Here it comes, and then we’ll talk to Melanie Sinclaire.
[BEYONCE’S “DIVA” PLAYS]
JESSICA: Think he’ll appreciate this?
UNCLE TIM: Yes. No probably have to issue a new apology.
JESSICA: Today’s interview with elite NCAA and Cirque du Soleil great Melanie Sinclaire is brought to you by Tumbl Trak. Tumbl Trak are major components of safety and education. This is one of the reasons I love their newsletters. They have great tips. Tumbl Trak is co-hosting Gym Con USA in Vegas this June. I don’t know if you guys know but Vegas is also known as the city with a billion Cirque shows. How appropo. This conference is one of Tumbl Trak’s many outreach programs to educate coaches. Doug, the owner of Tumbl Trak, is always saying you can have the best and safest equipment in the world, but if you don’t have the education, the equipment is useless. Gym Con USA will feature coaching clinics galore and guest speakers such as Shannon freaking Miller, US National team coaching guru Tammy Biggs, and our friend Rick McCharles. Gym Con USA is happening June 16-18, 2014 in Las Vegas. Go to gymconusa for details or visit tumbltrak.com.
JESSICA: Melanie Sinclaire is from Orlando, Florida. She grew up as an elite at Orlando Metro Gymnastics, the same gym as 2007 team world champ Shayla Worley. Melanie was a senior national team member for five years. She competed in tons of World Cups, brought home team gold from the 2002 Pan American Championships, and placed 12th all around in the 2004 US Olympic Trials. In 2006 she enrolled at the University of Florida where she set the record for perfect 10s scored on bars. She was most consistent on the team for two years in a row by hitting, are you ready for this, 56 out of 57 routines competed in a single season. Yeah. That’s nuts. By her senior year, she was a seven time All American. What I remember most about her is that she’s just so vivacious. She lit up the competition floor. You always knew where she was no matter how big the competition was, and she drew others to her like a light. She just has personality for days. Unfortunately her collegiate career was brought to an abrupt end in October 2009. She was arrested after stolen goods were discovered in her apartment, compliments of her then boyfriend. She was suspended from the team for the arrest but never convicted. She graduated two months later and moved on with her post gymnastics life. Melanie didn’t want to rehash the details of that day with us on the show. Instead she chose to talk to us about what she wished she had known then, what advice she would give her 22 year old self about true love or being blinded by the word love. The Cirque show Amaluna in which she stars is about female power, and Mel exemplifies that. She has risen from the depths of a damaging relationships, faced its terrifying consequences to become truly stronger in every aspect of her life. It was a pleasure to sit down with her to discuss how Cirque has helped her reach this new healthy point in her life. And we start by talking about her role in the show, which just as a reminder, this is a PG-13 show. And as you already heard in our review we discuss normal female body functions and body parts. Which is perfectly healthy for crying out loud. But it might be a little embarrassing if you’re sitting in the car with your parents listening right now. So just a heads up. Alright so here is Melanie.
JESSICA: Did you- one of the coolest things about this is the bars are like the old setting and the new setting put together. So you actually wrap the bar, like Mary Lou Retton style. Had you ever done that before?
MELANIE: Never. And fortunately for me, I am too small, too short to do some of the like the bar beating and the circles like the wraps and the wrap hechts and all that kind of stuff. So but other girls that do it, they’ve never done it before either. So that was definitely something we all had to learn to work with. And it was difficult at first because it is even though to the eye the configuration looks the same as what was used in the 80s, it is completely different. The bars are very stiff. Very hard. And so you do not beat the same as you would back in the 80s. Those bars were very bouncy so you were able to fly. So that was an adjustment. The configuration is not quite FIG because we have to do baby giants and things on low bar for all of us. All sizes. So they had to raise the low bar. The high bar is FIG setting and the low bar was FIG setting but then they raised in 10 cm so it’s no longer FIG setting. So that was an adjustment. So little things like that that made it tricky to learn to do the things that we’re used to doing on that configuration. So you had to adjust everything you’re used to. Like where you tap to where you press your hips to do a cast handstand. Everything had to change completely.
JESSICA: And speaking of that, you guys wear these giant wigs. And when we had so Tricia Woo, she went to Nebraska I think around the same time you were competing. And she is a Cirque performer, yeah. So we had her on the show and she was like I can’t cut my hair, the weight of my hair changes my angle so I have to make sure throw me off if my hair’s too short or too long, have to make sure. Then I saw you guys with your giant dreadlocks and I was like oh my god.
MELANIE: Yeah man
JESSICA: How did you adjust to that?
MELANIE: It’s heavy. That was an adjustment, not going to lie. It continues to be an adjustment every other city when we get a new costume or when we get a new head piece. It adds an extra five pounds of weight when you’re doing things you’re used to wearing a leotard, no clothes at all. So the only thing I can say is changing your technique in a way. And building strength. By changing our technique when do you do a kip cast handstand, I feel like sometimes I have to put my shoulders further over the bar because otherwise I can’t get up because either my head piece is if I don’t have my head far enough over it pulls me away from the bar. All the movement has to be exaggerated in order to make whatever connection or release you’re trying to do.
JESSICA: Ok so seeing the show, so I’m going to get real about the show because it is very, I told my mom about it and I was like let me just tell you about the show mom. How many days are in a cycle, like in your period. That is what the show is based on. I’m just telling you right now.
JESSICA: Like literally like 28 moons drop out of the ceiling and one’s red and a guy juggles them. I caught that, that was 28, counted them. We were like yes ok we know what’s going on in the show. It’s like
MELANIE: It’s about her coming into her womanhood
JESSICA: Yes exactly there’s moon cycles and menstruation and first love and then there’s a giant shaft of red light with a hymen or something floating in the middle when the show starts. We were debating we’re like is that her first period, is that a hymen. It’s so awesome though I love it. It’s like woman power. Yeah right? When it gets to your act, I was like the way the show goes you tell me your opinion but this is what I was thinking. They’re all dressed in red. They’re doing bars. They’re doing old school bars like beat the bars so smashing your uterus Mary Lou Retton style on the bars. And I was like is this supposed to be like when you get your first period and it’s the worst ever you feel the worst cramps of your entire life.
MELANIE: No no no no. That’s one way to look at it but I don’t think that’s what we were going for. It’s just to show the strength of women. It’s not necessarily to show anything that has to do with your period. Our act in particular.
JESSICA: It is really really a fun show. I kept this morning my husband showed me something, some video, and this is going to be totally embarrassing I might have to cut this out. But he showed me this video and it immediately made me burst into tears. I was like that’s so romantic it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. And he was like oh my god, period week. And I was like oh god. It is. Ok. And I immediately thought of the show and I was like oh my god this show I was thinking about interviewing you today and I was like that show is about 75% women, and there must be the so many inside jokes about everyone’s cycle synching up and the whole show being about that right?
MELANIE: Yes. We joke about it all the time. Like are you going to get your period? I’m about to start my period. I started my period too. Oh I’m fine. It’s so nasty but it’s so what happens every day.
BLYTHE: Alright so maybe just to begin you could recap a little bit your growing up at Orlando Metro for us. What was it like training there and what was it like training with Jeff Wood? Who’s quite a character that a lot of gymnastics fans know and really appreciate when they see on TV and such.
MELANIE: I can definitely look back on my experience at Metro and definitely be fulfilled from it because it did teach me a lot. I’m not going to say it was the easiest process to go through. But I learned so much about myself. And so much about strength and pushing myself definitely. Pushing myself through a lot of trials and tribulations that I may have been going through, not only in with gymnastics, with injuries, with emotions, but I guess with school as well. It helped me be disciplined in school and work on my time management. And I had amazing coaches from when I was a baby with Teresa and Jay Hogue until I was with Christine and Jeff. And they were amazing. They brought me, this sem-talented girl that only had a lot of strength and power and no form whatsoever and a lot of energy, and they were able to mold that into something that could actually compete with some of the top dogs. So I have a lot to thank them for. I definitely wouldn’t take anything back. What else would you like to hear about that part?
BLYTHE: Actually, we were reading a great quote from Jeff the other day in which he said something like it’s okay to break down. Breaking down is fine. You have to learn to get it together and finish your assignment no matter what. Was that your experience as an elite?
MELANIE: Yes. Yes and that’s kind of what I mean about being able to control my emotions and push through my emotions and injuries. Now some of that has taught me things the hard way because I now have to struggle with pushing through injuries when it’s not necessarily for the same reason. Like you can’t be pushing through an injury when you’re working for a company that you have to perform every night. You need to really take care of your body and be smart and listen to your body. But not listening to that and pushing through emotions and injuries actually helped me with gymnastics get ready for competition, be mentally tough. It helped me become a better competitor in college as well by blocking out things, by if there’s some external situation happening, I don’t know, with family, friends, boyfriend whatever, I was able to put that aside whenever I got into the gym and put my focus on what I needed my focus to be on. I guess in those aspects it helps a lot. It taught me a lot about myself and I became mentally tough. But again, as I said, now that I’m working for something else, it’s a lesson that I’m having to learn and to overcome and to listen and to actually take note of what my body is feeling and to act upon that instead of pushing it aside. So it taught me a lot in the beginning and now it’s teaching me another lesson at the end.
BLYTHE: Forgive me for this awfully tough question, when you said about gymnastics helping you push through other things like situations with boyfriends and other things in your life, was that as an elite gymnast? I’ve never met an elite gymnast that has actually copped to dating when they were an elite gymnast because I wouldn’t think that they would have the time.
MELANIE: To date?
BLYTHE: Yeah or was that afterwards?
MELANIE: Yeah I wasn’t allowed to date (laughs). My parents actually, they suggested that I didn’t actually get into any relationships until I was sixteen and it was kind of that same suggestion that Jeff had for us just because of the distraction that it would cause and the influences at that time that he believed men or other people in our lives could have, to distract us from our ultimate goal. So I was actually afraid. I was afraid to date. I was so naive to the world. I was so afraid of boys and holding hands and getting close to guys. Even when I was like seventeen, it was crazy how naive to that world I was.
BLYTHE: You were part of the transitional years at the Karolyi ranch, when the system kind of switched over from Bela and what he was doing to Martha and what she was doing. Can you talk a little bit about your memories of going to camp and things at the time?
MELANIE: I only experienced a very minute part of training with Bela. I think I was only a junior elite. Maybe I had just done TOPS testing and those kinds of testing so I was very young and I only remember a little bit about training with him. I just have one experience that stands out. And we were doing a warm up and I think we were running around the floor for like twenty minutes and doing like candlestick jumps and tuck jumps and push ups and running from thing to thing to thing and girls were dropping like flies, like throwing up. And that was one experience and I was like oh my gosh Bela Karolyi is so hard. I think it was my very first training camp. And I was like oh man what did I get myself into? And then I think, after that experience, I think at my next camp it was Martha and it was completely different. I’m glad things kind of evolved.
BLYTHE: People were throwing up, really?
MELANIE: There were a few girls that did throw up, that had to leave the floor. This was like maybe 2000 I think. 99 or 2000. So it was a long time ago and I think everybody had a bit of a shock to their system. So yeah it was definitely an intense start to our training camp but I don’t think anything has been that hard since then. Maybe more mentally and physically in the sense of how you need to form your routines and like skills, demanding in that sense but as far as the warm up and the conditioning, it was never like that since that time, for me at least.
BLYTHE: And Pilates, that seems kind of unusual for elite gymnastics. Did you do that throughout your career? Was that part of your training?
MELANIE: Yes we did have Pilates weekly. And I don’t think until now that I actually appreciate it. It was awesome! It was a good way to get in touch with your body and understand the different muscles, the deeper muscles that I guess we forget about and learning to strengthen and relax them, stretch them. And yeah it was definitely very helpful. As I was saying, I don’t think that until now and in college maybe, did I actually truly appreciate the knowledge that I was given at that age. Yeah.
BLYTHE: So how did you get recruited by Florida? Was that always your top pick as a school? Or did you have other things in mind? How did you end up there?
MELANIE: I went to a lot of Florida gymnastics meets growing up, so that was very common given I was raised in Florida and there’s only one gymnastics school in Florida. I had no aspirations of being a college gymnast until I was approaching that time and colleges, universities were contacting me. I always had a dream of being an Olympian and going as far as I could with the US and those dreams. And I guess through injuries and through whatever situations I may have come across through elite gymnastics, I realized that there was more I wanted to do. I didn’t reach the extent that I wanted to reach as an elite gymnast and I knew that by going to college I could potentially do that and still be as fulfilled and happy by being an NCAA competitor. So then I started to do my research on universities and I think I was more interested in some of the top SEC schools and like UCLA and Stanford and then as it became more real and the time was getting closer, I was like I am such a homebody. I need to be close to home. Then it became Georgia/Florida and then literally in a weekend, I made my decision to go to Florida. My recruiting trip was cut in half because of hurricanes, Hurricane Charley I think it was. I remember having to leave my recruiting trip at Florida because I had to go to training and I couldn’t go back to my recruiting trip because of Hurricane Charley so I just felt the vibes, the connection, the atmosphere on campus, the coaches, just the camaraderie between the girls and the resources that they provided and how close it was to home of course. It just seemed to fit me. Now I’m not saying I didn’t have a good time at Georgia and I loved the coaches and the girls and the university and the campus was phenomenal, there was just something within me that felt more comfortable at UF than I felt at Georgia. And I definitely wouldn’t change that for anything.
BLYTHE: Now when you went to Florida, kind of as you alluded to in your last response, Florida was kind of one of the other SEC schools. There was the Big Four which had won national championships, and then there were maybe a couple that were sort of on the bubble, making the Super Six and what not. And I feel like you and Amanda Castillo, you were the two who put Florida gymnastics on the NCAA map. You guys made people notice Florida and made people start talking about Florida as potential NCAA contenders to win. And you guys were both very confident, very funny, very successful. Can you talk about your class and what made your class different and how you really managed to elevate the level that Florida had and start that ball rolling which would culminate eventually in an NCAA title which was awesome.
MELANIE: Well Amanda is my best friend, always and forever. And I think being ourselves, when we were elite, it was very disciplined, very strict, very kind of to yourself. You know, you needed to focus on yourself as a competitor. And it was kind of, I don’t want to say too strict or military, but I felt like it was very rigid, very protocol. And when I got to college, I got to loosen up and truly show what Melanie was about. I could just have so much fun and be myself. I was nervous about it at first because of the large groups of…the audience and the amount of people who came to these competitions, I’d never been around this many people at every competition before. So that, I was nervous about but you feed off of it. Castillo was my best friend and it was an amazing class of girls that I knew from either competing against in elite or just from level 10 competition. It was awesome. You’re with so many good personalities and competitors that push you and that knew how you trained at home and they helped you with little things that your coach may have said at home. It just brought out a whole new part of me that I wasn’t able to show whenever I competed as an elite. And it was fun. It was awesome. Amanda and I, we fed off of each other’s energy. When one would smile, we’d give each other a look or whatever it may be, that was our cue like I’m with you girl. Go ahead and do your thing. I’ve got your back, kind of a thing. We’d give each other fist pounds and slap each others butts, whatever it was to make us feel good, we did it. And it was awesome. And that was one way where we not only helped ourselves but kind of helped the energy of our group and the other girls may have fed off of it as well. And it just made you feel comfortable. When you know that you’re happy and you enjoy what you’re doing, you’re relaxed and you focus on the important things, that’s your love, your love of the sport and when you can focus on that, you’re able to perform and do things that you never thought you could do. I’d never stuck landings until I got to college. It was like what? And so it’s awesome, it’s an awesome feeling and I loved every minute of it.
BLYTHE: And you were amazingly consistent when you bloomed at Florida. According to our statistics, you hit 56 out of 57 routines that you competed in 2009. And that’s an incredible number for a college gymnast definitely.
MELANIE: Thank you, I appreciate that.
BLYTHE: How would you describe Rhonda as a coach? And going from Jeff to Rhonda, how was that transition for you?
MELANIE: It’s different. I’m used to Jeff, who, he knew how to push my buttons and he knew that by pushing my buttons that would pull out the beast from within to fight for whatever it is I’m going for, to put my emotions aside and to fight through whatever pain, soreness whatever was going on in my head and my mind and my body whatever. He knew how to pull it out of me. Now when you go to college, it’s a bit of a transition because you have not been raised with this coach and they don’t know how you were when you were a child to when you left at 18. So they have to learn the techniques that push you, that make you hungry to compete, to whatever it is. Rhonda, she was actually very good at getting to know us. Me for instance though, I wanted her to know who I am. I wanted to know what she was thinking all the time so I met with her constantly to discuss whatever was on my mind, if she could tell me whatever was on her mind so we have better connection. I wanted her to know me, to know how to teach me, to know how to work with Melanie because I wasn’t the girl she had before and I’m not the girl she’s going to have next, the gymnast that she’s going to have next so you know, every gymnast is unique. And I think that helps our relationship. And she’s really good at taking that and using it in a gentler way to push you. I loved Jeff’s technique and method because he was like my father. So it’s a different kind of connection. Rhonda became like an awesome friend that knew how to push you. She had soft words. She knew how to make you feel good and loved to build a connection with your teammates and she was awesome. I definitely enjoyed the experience with her.
BLYTHE: That’s great! And what was it like for you watching Florida win the national title last year?
MELANIE: Oh my gosh (laughs). I was like a little kid. I was in the middle of a show so like we had the stats playing on my phone. So I’m running and every cue, running back and forth to my phone looking for updates, like oh my God, like whatever the stats were at that moment. Just so excited, just nervous, my hands were sweating, like I had so much energy within, like you know that tension that builds right before you find out the final score. When I found out, oh my Gosh. It was almost like I won. I mean I know I wasn’t there, I had no part of it, to do with it. But it was so fulfilling. It was so amazing. It was so rewarding to know that our university won. I just felt so happy for the girls, so happy for Rhonda, for Adrian, and for Rob and the whole staff, everybody. It was so I don’t know. I can’t even explain the feelings that I felt whenever we won SECs the first time. It was a similar feeling like inside except for I didn’t do the work to get there. It was so awesome. And I’m so happy for the university, for the program, the gymnastics program. They’ve come a long way. And everybody knew they had that potential. It was just so awesome to know that it finally paid off and that people were able to see that Florida is a top contender. I think that was the real rewarding part about it. Don’t sleep on Florida. We’re still there.
BLYTHE: You set a school record for the number of perfect 10s received on bars at Florida. And we were thinking and kind of comparing you to Anna Li who returned to elite as a bars specialist after her career at UCLA. And we sort of ask all the gymnasts that we have on the show. Do you ever get any twinges to return to elite after having such a great NCAA career?
MELANIE: I thought about it actually. When I graduated in December 2010, I moved back to Orlando and I started training because I wanted to see what was next, to open up possibilities. So I started training and I did an audition for Sea World and they never called me. I was like oh man. So I applied for Cirque online, but after I applied for Cirque, I was like training training. Like doing bars and playing around with tumbling and getting my strength back and everything. Jeff just jokingly mentioned the idea of you know you should come back. So of course I thought about it. And I thought about it some more and thought about it some more. And in the process of thinking about it, I got offered Cirque. So it definitely has crossed my mind but then there’s a part of me that looks at these girls now and they’re doing outrageous like phenomenal gymnastics. I’m like I don’t know if I could keep up. But it definitely has crossed my mind. If I get in better shape and really put in the hours of training and mentally allow myself to get there, I definitely would be willing to make another go at it for sure.
BLYTHE: What do you want gymnasts to know about life after elite gymnastics and life after NCAA gymnastics? You kind of touched on it a little bit before we started talking here. And so what advice would you give somebody that’s coming to the end of either their NCAA career or their elite career about kind of transitioning and turning the page?
MELANIE: I do find that sometimes it is hard for I think elite gymnasts especially but you know, all gymnasts. Whenever you’ve been doing it from your walking to when you’re 23 and 24 and out of college, it’s hard. It is really hard to stop. You thrive off of that adrenaline rush, that energy you may get from the audience from performing from being out there in the spotlight. And sometimes it’s hard to put that away. I do believe that Cirque offers an amazing opportunity for you to take that next step, not necessarily by beating your body up like you did in gymnastics, but by taking that next step and being able to use your years of performing and your talent to the next level and to make money off of it as well, but to continue to perform and show people your talent. I can only speak wonders about this opportunity that I’ve had. After graduating, there was a void. I didn’t finish performing how I wanted to finish performing and this is the next best thing and I’ve loved every minute of it. And getting into the company also, like if you don’t want to perform but you still would like to be apart of that world of performing, there’s so many outlets in this company that people can get into. From coaching to casting, if you do have whatever it is that you went to school for, the background and education that you have, there’s so many opportunities within this company that you can use and still be apart of this world. So I suggest people to start looking at other outlets and not think that performing is done for them. Also to add to that, I know a lot of gymnasts think that they can’t do it because we understand that at the end of our careers and college especially, we feel broken. We feel like our bodies cannot push through any more strain or physical activity to that level. That’s something also that I want to stress with this company that I’m working with now. They put so much emphasis on your health and nutrition. They’re all about being at your full potential, physically, to know that you need to listen to your body. And they don’t want to push you physically because they know that your body is your temple. It is what will perform. Your body is your moneymaker basically. They’re very very diligent and very conscious of making sure that physical therapy up to par. They take care of you from doctor’s appointments, eye appointments, whatever it may be. If you have any concussions or falls, they are strictly by protocol, you need to sit out. You need to take care of yourself because you have to be at your peak when you’re on stage. You have to know that you can’t be at 50% because if you’re at 50% and you make a mistake, you can hurt someone else as well. And the things that people do are too dangerous to put any risk out there on stage.
BLYTHE: We did want to talk a little bit about the end of your collegiate career. It must have been very heartbreaking to lose your gymnastics career so abruptly as it did. And what we wanted to know was what advice for other gymnasts who might be as you said, naive and protected from dating and relationships until they get into college. What would you want to tell them?
MELANIE: I think that you need to use your instincts. We know when you’re in a good or a bad situation for the most part. There may be cues, whether verbal or nonverbal that let you know what is right or wrong. For me, I wasn’t happy with where my gymnastics was. I was a little bit depressed at that, being away from home even though I’m not that far. I wasn’t that far but just you know, family issues, gymnastics issues. And to know that whatever it is that you may be feeling, to not forget that you do have outlets. You do have resources. You do have a lot of people that are willing to help you and not to just bottle that in and take whatever actions on your own that you feel are necessary. Because sometimes you will make bad decisions because at the time you feel like you’re making the right decision but you’re not in necessarily the best mental state. To be vocal with your family, to be vocal with your coaches, that is one thing that I should have done more. I should have been more vocal with my family. I should have expressed my doubts and my feelings and my emotions with my coach as well instead of pushing everybody away and confiding in the wrong people that are just there to make you feel loved but not. So I 100% think communication is very important and using your own intuition or instinct and following it. And also, sometimes your friends know you better than you think. I wouldn’t necessarily say listen to everything your friends say but if you are hearing a lot of the common similar things from your friends over and over, I wouldn’t necessarily push it aside and especially take note of it and really analyze the situation and make sure you’re in a good situation. So just being smart, and I guess when you’re in that kind of a situation and you know your role as an athlete or whatever job you may have, just be transparent and know that you’re not alone. Feeling like you’re alone sometimes can make you do some irrational things.
BLYTHE: How did you cope with the grief of losing your NCAA career? When all that stuff went down and there was nothing more that you could do for Florida for gymnastics, what did you do and who did you turn to and how did you begin to come out of that situation?
MELANIE: Well at the time, I had a lot more on my mind than losing my NCAA career so I was just putting my focus on my education and the things that were important to me, you know, rebuilding trust with friends and family and focusing on Melanie’s health, yeah finishing my education and being happy, having to find myself again. For a moment I lost who Melanie was and I needed to do some soul searching to find who I was again. And at that time, gymnastics wasn’t at the top of my priority list. But after I graduated and felt better about myself and my confidence had gone back up and I’d shown myself, proven to myself that I had more worth, I was able to see that none of my passion was gone. And that’s why I started training again and applied for Cirque. And now I’m in a situation that I love. And I don’t want to say I regret my situation that happened. Yeah of course I wish it had gone different. But it taught me a lot, taught me a lot about myself, taught me a lot about my worth and my potential and my frame of mind. I look at things completely different now. I appreciate things a lot more. I have a better connection with my family. I matured a lot. I think it has helped me grow into an amazing young woman now that I’m happy.
BLYTHE: Was it any one person during that time who gave you a lot of support? Were you able to talk to Amanda about it?
MELANIE: Yes. Amanda’s honest. That’s one thing I love about her. No matter what I went through, no matter what I may have been going through, she was honest. Her friendship wasn’t fake. I definitely learned who was actually there for me for me or who was actually there for me because of my status. And Amanda stood by me the whole time. She gave me love and support and honesty and that’s what I needed. Sometimes I needed to be slapped, you know wake up…whatever whatever. And she was definitely that girl. And I think that definitely made our friendship grow, considering we’re still really close now even though I haven’t been home by being on tour. It’s definitely matured the both of us.
BLYTHE: So let’s talk about Cirque. How much time lapsed by the way between the time you left college and the time you got accepted, your application to Cirque was accepted?
MELANIE: Well for me, I can’t complain because it was actually only a few months.
JESSICA: Is there anything else that you want to talk about or anything else that you want people to know about the show or about Cirque or anything else you want to discuss?
MELANIE: Just to enjoy life. And to not get too caught up in competitions or too caught up in just one thing and to realize that life is very fulfilling and it’s an amazing thing and that we should definitely be happy with everything that we’ve been given and our talent and friends that come into our lives and our family and to not forget about that most of all. To not forget and to not put too much emphasis on the small things because life has a huge picture and anything that you come across in your life because you never know where it may take you or who it may make you cross paths with so I definitely would take note of that.
JESSICA: Excellent advice. One final question that I promised I would ask one of our co-hosts, Evan Heiter, he might have been competing when you were competing. He demanded that we ask where is Amanda Castillo and what is she up to now and how is she doing?
MELANIE: She is awesome. She is back in Florida in Orlando working and in love.
JESSICA: Yay awww!
MELANIE: Yeah she’s doing great! She’s doing awesome!
MELANIE: She’s so bubbly. Every time we get together, it’s still the crazy college girls coming out. Yeah so she’s doing well.
JESSICA: Oh that’s fantastic. He’ll be very very pleased to hear that. Well it was so nice to talk to you. And thank you so much for taking the time and for, I just think you said a lot of important things in this and that people will be very happy to hear from you and also I think, I hope they take your advice I guess.
MELANIE: Thank you. I appreciate this opportunity to be able to speak with you guys as well. I think it was awesome and I wish you guys the best as well and I hope to hear from you guys again.
ALLISON TAYLOR: This episode is brought to you by Elite Sportz Band. elitesportzband.com. We’ve got your back.
JESSICA: Visit elitesportzband.com, that’s sports with a z and save $5 on your next purchase with the code Gymcast.
That’s going to do it for us this week. Next week, we have a very special guest for you guys, one Aly Raisman will be on the show. So look forward to hearing Aly on next Wednesday. Make sure to send your questions to us and also I want to remind you guys to watch the Gabby movie on Saturday night so we can discuss it at length next week. And also, there’s a whole bunch of videos and photos up on the site of what Melanie does on the show and of her career and you’ll get an idea of her awesome personality. So check those out. Thank you so much for listening and we’ll see you next week with Aly Raisman.
JESSICA: Mesh, like a real flesh color depending on your color which I highly appreciate because I can’t stand in NCAA when they’ll have like a team of people of all different colors and creeds everyone has like the same color. Seriously? Seriously?
MELANIE: I know!
JESSICA: Can you give that compliment to the Cirque fashion designers on the show tonight?