by @LeapTheAtlantic on September 23, 2016

Polina Poliakova
Age: 18
Club: Pipers Vale
College: Rutgers

  • Born in Russia and is bilingual
  • A member of the England National Squad since 2011
  • Competed on the regional team from 2008-11
  • Named Female Gymnast of the Year in 2013 and 2014 and picked up Achievement of Elite Sports Award in 2014.
  • Hopes to major in sports therapy and psychology

Polina, an ex-England squad gymnast, has just started her freshman year at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Read her interview below to hear about her experience so far as a Scarlet Knight, and what inspired her to make the move to America...

How did you find out about NCAA?
I initially found out about collegiate gymnastics and the NCAA through watching a previous gymnast Marissa King go over to Florida to compete. The team spirit and overall set up for the gymnastics program is what appealed to me, especially as I wasn't quite of standard of the British squad, so naturally wouldn't have been able to pursue much more of a 'professional career' so to speak.

How did you get recruited?
I didn't actually get recruited as such, I started by researching and reaching out to all division 1 universities, later sending over videos of my competitions and skills and staying in contact with those that were interested in me.

Did you take the SAT? How did you find it?
I did take the SATs, I found them relatively straightforward and didn't actually do too much preparation to be honest. I had a SAT preparation book, which I used as a study guide, along with having someone at the gym help me a bit, but all in all it was pretty simple.

What or who inspired you to pursue your NCAA dreams?
The initial inspiration came from seeing Marissa King compete for Florida on floor the first time, after seeing that routine at the age of around 13 it was always in the back of my mind as something that I thought was really great and something I would have wanted to pursue. However, the possibility to do so didn't come until much later when I moved clubs and saw that a guy in my club was applying for American unis, which is what reignited the motivation to apply as I thought the idea of actually going to an American university was so far-fetched; when I saw how easy the process was, I was all in!
I also saw that many other gymnasts such as yourself, Danusia and Jenni also go over which also increased my motivation to go. One of my closest friends from the England squad also encouraged me to apply and she's actually in Penn State currently going into her sophomore year.

Why did you chose Rutgers?
I chose Rutgers as a path to pursue based on two criteria- high level gymnastics and high level academics. They offered the courses that I was interested in as well as having excellent facilities an amazing team! Back in Britain, I would have had to make more of a sacrifice into what extent I participated in my sport if I was to do higher education in University, but here at Rutgers, I get to have the best of both worlds which is ideal for me!

What are you most looking forward to about college in the US?
Mostly the hype of the competitions and competing in a team, along with being open to many more opportunities in the respect of various courses and career pathways that I am able to take ( I feel like in the UK, university courses can be somewhat restricting, especially if you're unsure of which path you want to take).

What do you see as positives of doing both NCAA gymnastics and elite gymnastics?
For me, the positives of elite gymnastics include that it is a very good path to go down to motivate gymnasts to strive towards the highest level of gymnastics for themselves in more of a professional light, however, this isn't a possibility for everyone, which is where I feel that NCAA gymnastics fits in very well, as the elite path isn't for everyone and only a select few actually do make it to the National squad, which can be very disheartening for some. I've seen a few of my close friends in elite feel the need to stop training due to the lack of outcome in their gymnastics careers, yet miss training and want to get back into it; which I personally feel could have been prevented if they had the opportunity and knowledge of collegiate gymnastics.

Are you worried about living away from home?
Personally I adjust pretty well to being away from home- so far I've been absolutely fine! But I think a big contributing factor to me settling in well has been that there has been a massive support system here for me from coaches, gymnasts, to teachers and other admin staff who are all very encouraging, supportive and willing to help all the time! Not only has it been just because I am an international student, but everybody here knows how tough it can be to be a freshman, even if you're from the same state as the university! Everybody is very understanding and sympathetic in this respect and help is ALWAYS there if it is ever needed!

What are your goals as a student-athlete?
My goals as a student-athlete are to put in my best effort to become the best I can possibly be in both my gymnastics and studies to best support my team, along with creating the best opportunity for myself in terms of a later career.

Do you think gymnasts in the UK have enough access to information and inspiration in regards to trying to follow the NCAA route?
Personally, no. I only found out about the process though a teammate and one other close friend, which I feel was more based on luck! Not many have even heard of the NCAA or even aware that its a possibility to do collegiate gymnastics (mainly I think its due to the fact that in the UK there isn't a large intercollegiate system which is unfortunate).

How has your time so far been out in the US? Have there been any sunrises/cultural differences so far?
So far my time in the US has been wonderful! I have been introduced to a new level of gymnastics that has increased my knowledge in so much more than just the sport itself; such as emphasis on strength training with weights, teamwork, rest and recovery and the various methods of achieving these!
Similarly, due to it being such a massive place, I have learned so much more about so many different cultures through meeting many other local and international students, which has also been really fun to socialise more. Back home I was stuck in a personal bubble of high school and gym, whereas here its 100% more than that! I meet someone new almost every day and its just so lovely to discover a page of someone's life story and share some of my own with them.
The sporting community is also very tight-knit which I love, especially as I know so little about other sports, so its really interesting to interact with like-minded people and learn about their passions.
There are definitely cultural differences, but they don't really impact on anything. Its such a diverse place in general, due to there being so many people of many different backgrounds and ethnicity, but that is what I find makes it so unique! Plus the sense of patriotism and pride of being a Rutgers Scarlet Knight is what unites everyone and makes everything that much more special!