From the top of the uneven bars to the corner of the spring floor, junior Jessica Bolduc has literally experienced the highs and lows of a gymnastics career.
Battling through injury and demanding training schedules while competing at every event, Bolduc has stuck with her passion — swinging, twisting and leaping her way to the top of the podium.
Tied as Ithaca College’s current record-holder with seven individual All-American finishes in only her first two years on the gymnastics team, Bolduc has established herself as a national title contender in not just one event, but four.
Competing on the bars, balance beam, floor and vault all in the same season isn’t something new for Bolduc, who started gymnastics at the age of 4 years old and was competing a year later.
“I remember my mom asking, ‘Do you want to do dance, gymnastics or soccer?’” Bolduc said. “Gymnastics, it’s crazy that you can make that decision when you’re little, and you look back and you’re like, ‘What would I have done if I didn’t have this?’”
Throughout high school, Bolduc was a member of the Darien YMCA gymnastics team in Darien, Conn., where her coaches were Ukrainian and demanded a high level of commitment, Bolduc said.
“I remember I used to skip my morning classes and train in the morning for a couple hours,” she said. “Then I’d go to school and would have practice later on from 6:15 to 9:15. But he assigned me to go an hour early so I would go to practice from about 5:30 to 9:30, 10 o’clock at night.”
Bolduc maintained a grade point average above 3.0, despite the grueling demands of competing at level 10, one step below the elite level that is designed to prepare athletes to represent the U.S. on the national and international stage. Bolduc qualified for the junior Olympics as a sophomore in high school. Bolduc’s résumé also includes a USA Gymnastics state title, as well as a first-place finish at the YMCA Nationals as a high school junior. But during her senior year, while competing at the YMCA nationals, she injured her back on the vault before going up to the uneven bars and had to pull out of the event.
Bolduc was rushed to the hospital and doctors discovered she had a bulging disk — an injury related to the lower back when a disk bulges through a crevice in the spine. She said after the national competition her view of the sport changed.
“After I got back from nationals I just didn’t want to do gymnastics,” Bolduc said. “It was just so hard because [Head Gymnastics Coach Rick Suddaby] was like, ‘Send me your video,’ and I was just like, ‘No, I don’t want to do gymnastics. I hate this sport; it’s not fun for me.’ My dreams just got crushed.”
Bolduc, a business major, said the gymnastics environment on South Hill and the acceptance and understanding of the athletes helped her get back in the swing of gymnastics.
“I didn’t really know what the meaning of a team was,” she said. “I was in level 10 for five years by myself. I competed three of the five years just on my own; I was my own team.”
Suddaby said he recognized Bolduc was approaching burnout after competing at such a high level for so long and needed a change.
“When I watched her, she needed a team, and that’s one thing that makes college different is the team aspect,” Suddaby said. “I knew if she came she’d fall in love with the team, and then she’d love the sport again, and that’s exactly what happened.”
Bolduc’s sweeping arm movements above her head and the smooth flicks of her ankle and point of her toes, along with energetic punctuations of a defiant, serious stare and dramatic leg-kick, propelled her to three All-American honors as a freshman.
Frances Ente ’09, who was also a member of the Darien YMCA team and competed on the vault and bars for the Blue and Gold, said Bolduc stood out on the team as a freshman.
“In meets where someone is like, ‘Oh, I don’t know if I can do this,’” Ente said. “She’s always the one saying, ‘You got this; it’s nothing,’ which is very calming.”
While she tells others that they have it in themselves to pull through, for Bolduc, revisiting her least favorite event — beam, which she gave up freshman year — was a test of her own self-determination. Bolduc said she figured she would do it in college, but she never thought a teammate’s illness at the Eastern College Athletic Conference Championships would give her the opportunity to get back on the beam in competition.
“I’m freaking out because they only told me the morning of, and this meet decides whether you go to nationals or not,” Bolduc said. “So I’m sitting there saying, ‘Oh my God, I’m competing beam.’”
Bolduc ended up finishing second in the all-around and was named Rookie of the Year and advanced to nationals where she placed fourth in the all-around. But it’s a full task to compete in all the events, Bolduc said.
On Mondays and Thursdays Bolduc practices on the bars, beam and vault, and on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday she substitutes floor for the vault.
Bolduc said being a Bomber has changed her view of gymnastics.
“I have so much appreciation toward the sport now,” she said. “That’s why I love it so much more because I have people who stand by me and believe in me and help me and cheer me on.”
Bolduc said her main goal is to propel the team as whole back to the national stage, but she also has some individual achievements to meet.
“I’m missing an All-American on beam,” she said. “I have an All-American on everything else, it’s just one little thing, and it’s always held me back.”
As Bolduc prepares for her third season, she said making a difference through her efforts and knowing it can help the team achieve its goals is something she thrives on.
“I just love competing; I love performing,” Bolduc said. “Those All-Americans, yeah, they mean something to me, but more so it’s just being with everybody and having a blast.”