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For Tricia Woo, Nebraska’s 2 p.m. women’s gymnastics dual with Iowa State Sunday is a milestone event – the last regular-season home meet of her sparkling four-year Husker career.
That means the “Woo, Woo, Woo!” chants from the “Pepsi Pack the House” crowd are coming to an end, although they’re likely to be more vocal than ever when Nebraska hosts the 2009 NCAA Women's Gymnastics Championships April 16-18 at the Devaney Center.
A 5-0 senior from Milpitas, Calif., and the iconic face of Nebraska’s productive program, Woo admits she’s grown fond of the chants, but truly, she feels her life is just starting to take off, not screeching to an emotional halt.
“I would not change the experiences I’ve had at Nebraska for anything,” she said. “Even though it may be the end of my career soon, I still feel like I’m going somewhere. I’m satisfied with what I’ve accomplished, and when it comes time for my last meet, I’ll be satisfied with my career.”
But here’s the catch. “I still want to find my own path,” she said. “I’m getting closer, athletically and academically, but now that I’m a senior, I want to do more, be better, help others.”
Thankfully, that’s all happening, and Tricia’s parents, Eric and Audrey Woo, are in Lincoln this weekend for the first time and are excited to support their daughter on Senior Day.
“I’ll be leading the ‘Woo, Woo, Woo’ chants Sunday, and I’m sure they’re eager to join in with everyone else,” said Nebraska Women’s Gymnastics Coach Dan Kendig, who is equally enthused about the last home meet for his other senior, Brittney Williams, who came back for one more season after suffering an Achilles tear in 2008.
“Like Tricia, Britt has this incredible passion to finish her career right,” Kendig said. “She could have gotten a fifth year by doing nothing, but she was willing to pay her own way, if necessary, to compete this year. Fortunately, we had a scholarship open up, and the day she got the news, she literally broke down and cried.
“The injury forced Britt to go from three events to one, but she’s still instrumental to the success we’re having,” Kendig said. “She anchors our (uneven parallel) bar lineup and is leading us to No. 1 status in the athletic department’s Life Skills program. I’m just really proud of her and all she’s done. Both seniors are finishing their careers with great attitudes and great leadership.”
‘Woo, Woo, Woo’ Emulates ‘Ruuuuuuuud’ or Suuuuuuuuh’
In a sense, the Woo chant applies to everything good about Nebraska women’s gymnastics. “It’s one of the neatest things in our program,” Kendig said. “A parent started it several years ago, and it’s helped rally our crowds ever since. People really get into it, and it inspires the whole team.”
“Woo, Woo, Woo!” is fast, fun and fashionable for one reason. “Tricia has lived up to that reputation,” Kendig said. “I love yelling ‘Ruuuuuuuuuud or ‘Suuuuuuuuuuuh’ at football games, but there’s no question about it. ‘Woo, Woo, Woo’ is my personal favorite.”
Both Kendig and Woo laugh at the positive impact that emerged from their once somewhat fragile head coach-prize pupil relationship.
“Coach once told me that he tries to put everyone in a box, but that I always stand outside that box,” Woo said. “I can’t help it. I’ve always been this crazy, nutty, eccentric girl from California.”
Driven by perfection in the gym and an innate desire to be different, Woo’s flair didn’t immediately mesh with Kendig’s focus, but they’ve grown close over the last four years, and the experience has been mutually rewarding.
“Tricia’s leadership with the freshman class this year has been unbelievable,” Kendig said. “The way she’s mentored our freshmen and the way they look up to her has made a huge difference in the chemistry of our team. It’s inspirational for everyone.”
Woo stepped up because she remembers how delicate her own freshman year was.
“When I was a freshman, I didn’t have it all together,” she said. “I didn’t realize how important it was to stick your landing right every time or to make sure your leg was straight every time. Back then, I would be satisfied when the little things weren’t perfect, but now I’m not. I try to do everything as perfectly as possible and try to help the younger gymnasts do the same thing. I try to get them to put that same kind of pressure on themselves, so they can learn faster and become better.”
For Woo, a 9.9 or 9.95 Not Always Good Enough
Perfectionism is admirable, but not always profitable. “Sometimes, Tricia is her own worst critic,” Kendig said. “She’ll come off the beam with a 9.9 or a 9.95 routine and not be happy with that,” he said. “Sometimes, she gets a little too tough on herself, but we’re learning from it.”
Actually, Woo is a 9.9 or better performer in all three of her individual events – beam, floor and vault. “She has the potential to be there on bars, too, but we’re not there yet,” Kendig said.
Therefore, Nebraska’s best known gymnast, a three-time All-American and reigning Big 12 balance beam champion, is still not in the Huskers’ all-around lineup. And she’s fine with that because her focus is more on the team’s goals than her own.
Kendig and assistants Danna Durante and Tim Garrison help Woo on her fundamentals, but “she’s definitely unique in everything she choreographs herself,” Kendig said.
That’s what makes Tricia Woo one-of-a-kind.
“I don’t want to be just okay,” she said. “I don’t like to do the same routine everyone else does. I put my own style and my own flare into every event. Whenever I compete, I make sure I put ‘me’ into it.”
Sometimes, that extra “me” doesn’t show up in a judge’s score, but it keeps Woo motivated.
Her Bent for Perfection Started at an Early Age
Her style and bent for perfection started at an early age.
“As a youngster, I was always small, and people picked on me, saying: ‘You’re so short, you can’t do this or you can’t do that,’” she related. “That burned me up so much that I’ve always carried it with me. I worked extra hard to counter what people said. Now, if anyone says I can’t do something, I’m more than motivated to do whatever it takes to meet the challenge head-on.”
That brings us to Tricia Woo, the scholar, not the athlete.
She has this late goal in her life – something that just got inside her head last summer. “I want to go to med school,” she said. “I want to be a doctor, a surgeon. I just saw my first open-heart surgery a couple of weeks ago, and it was so amazing and so exhilarating, I can’t wait to tackle my organic chemistry class.”
There’s one problem. Tricia Woo did more California dreaming than buckling down and studying when she first got to Nebraska.
“Growing up, I worked out 37 hours a week, so I didn’t attend school. I did an independent study program,” she said. “So I didn’t adjust well when I got to college. I struggled here with my study habits, and I was disappointed in myself.”
Since those early scholastic setbacks, Woo has used her obsession with perfection in the gym to spill over to her academic goals and the necessary habits to achieve them.
“I came here without a goal for a certain GPA,” she said. “Now I have a goal, and I’m working hard to achieve it. When I decided I wanted to go into pre-med, I realized my grades weren’t good enough. So I decided to ‘up’ my game and pursue pre-med like I’ve pursued everything else.”
She Has All the Energy and the Imagination to Succeed
Woo recognized her path once she came upon it, and now, more than ever, she has all the energy and imagination to take that path.
“I don’t know what made me decide to go into pre-med because I didn’t want to do it before,” she said. “But something just clicked. Once I set my mind to do something, no matter how hard it is, I just go for it. I don’t want to hear how my grades aren’t good enough, and why I don’t have enough experience. Don’t tell me what I can’t do because I’m going to work to prove you wrong. It’s not because I’m so competitive. It’s more about not wanting to be told what I can’t do.”
Tricia Woo, in her own way, has confronted her fears. She has listed them, understands them, and has put them aside. And now she is moving ahead as fast and as measured as possible.
“You can’t have goals like Tricia has if you don’t have the ability to work hard and accomplish them,” Kendig said. “I wasn’t surprised when she turned up the academic gears. She’s just not the type to leave here and ask ‘What if?’ She’s found her path, and I’d never bet against her.”
In fact, he can think of three words to help spur her on. “Woo, Woo, Woo!” Kendig said.
“I just really feel like the end of this season is going to be truly amazing for her.”