BATAVIA – Meggan Hagemann selected a remix of a hardcore punk song for her floor exercise because she thought it captured her approach to Batavia gymnastics.
“I’m not really that graceful type of gymnast. I’m more of the intense,” she said. “So it kind of goes with that, which is nice.”
For several years growing up, Hagemann hesitated to establish her own style. She was leery to even compete. The pain of a torn meniscus gradually deconstructed her nerve, but now the senior’s spirit is on the rise – just in time for the state series.
Hagemann suffered the injury at 10, as she maneuvered using a back tumble. Gymnasts need both front and back tumbling skills, so erasing the anxiety about going back has been Hagemann’s most ongoing struggle.
It was easier – and safer – to aid others in their gym pursuits. That certainly involved far less risk.
Shortly after she was injured, Hagemann began coaching Fox Valley Special Recreation students at Excel Gymnastics in St. Charles, continuing the practice through her freshman year at Batavia.
The Bulldogs split practice sessions between Excel and the Batavia Park District, so Hagemann still saw her contemporaries often. It turned out Bulldogs coach Taryn Boyce was returning the glances.
Boyce sensed an urge in Hagemann, who she had met the year before. Though not an official Bulldog herself, Boyce, a Batavia graduate, competed for a Sycamore club while her mother helped establish the gymnastics groundwork at Batavia in the early 1990s. Boyce consulted Hagemann about her skills, about her fears, and wasn’t surprised to see Hagemann training during the summer before her sophomore year.
“Just a lot of patience, a lot of motivating. Because she had been out for so long, too, and then she was afraid of re-injuring it,” Boyce said. “So we just kind of took baby steps. Let’s try to do this one day, then move on to the next. It’s taken three years, four years.”
Hagemann joined the high school program as an event specialist, focusing predominantly on vault and the floor exercise.
If called upon, she would have given the bars and beam another try, though that might have compromised her training plan. Avoiding too much strain and overwork on her knee was a top concession.
“It was kind of the option of either being mediocre in every event, or kind of excelling in a single event,” Hagemann said. “It was kind of easier for me to just be able to kick back, relax and not totally throw myself in as fast as I could have.”
Her fellow Bulldogs wasted no time in becoming allies. Junior Sarah Ganster, the team’s top all-around competitor, has grown especially close with Hagemann this season as she develops into a team leader of her own.
“We do way different [events], so it’s mostly encouragement. Like, ‘Hey, we can do this.’ ‘You can do this,’ ” Ganster said. “We really push each other on floor. Learning new skills, we’ll just go for it. We’re like that boost of energy for each other.”
“The Bird and the Worm” by punk rockers The Used provides Hagemann with a similar jolt. While her floor song contrasts with such softer gymnastics staples as “I Feel Pretty” from “West Side Story,” it’s simply what allows her to zone in.
Hagemann registered her top vault score of 8.65 at the Glenbard South Triangular last Wednesday. She completed a career-best 9.3 vault at Oswego earlier this season.
Sporting an Illinois State hoodie before Monday’s practice, Hagemann is set to attend the Normal school and plans to major in special education. She still sees some of her former Fox Valley athletes when the team practices at Excel, and is involved in other special education endeavors throughout the year.
In October, the Batavia, Geneva and St. Charles chambers of commerce recognized Hagemann among the Tri-Cities’ top young professionals at its annual “30 Under 30” dinner. Hagemann represented the Batavia-based Valley Sheltered Workshop as a student intern.
Gymastics practice began a few weeks later, returning Hagemann to a place that’s again produced confidence and satisfaction for the past few years.
“There was a lot of hesitation. I actually was cleared earlier, but didn’t know if I was ready to come back personally,” Hagemann said. “So once I finally mustered up the confidence to come back, I was glad I did. Being back in the gym was what I wanted.”