By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation
Competing in the World Trampoline and Tumbling Championships for the first time, Hope Bravo considered it a win that she didn't cry.
"I used to be so terrible at competing, I would let the nerves get the best of me," said Bravo, a junior on the Baylor acrobatics & tumbling team. "I didn't really make myself sick, I would more make myself cry. We were sitting at dinner, and I was like, `You guys, this was the first meet where I didn't cry in the bathroom.' This year has given so much confidence in myself. It's insane, I can't even express how I feel."
Finishing second among her American teammates and 19th overall (among 34 individuals) with a two-round score of 62.700, Bravo helped USA make it to the tumbling finals and a fourth-place team finish behind China, Great Britain and France.
"I think we definitely had a chance to get at least a (bronze) medal," Bravo said. "USA hasn't been the strongest -- they were strong in tumbling, then kind of died down a little bit -- and now we're picking back up. It was a huge deal for us to get to the finals and then move up a spot.
"Just hearing around the block from other countries, `Oh, USA is stepping up their game.' I think they know we're coming for them."
Trampoline was added to the Olympics in 2000, but power tumbling is not an Olympic event, so the World Championships and World Games are the biggest stages for tumbling.
"We think the World Championships are like our Olympics," Bravo said, "because you're competing against a lot more people. It's still the best of the best, but it's just two (competitors) per country in the World Games."
Bravo qualified for the USA tumbling team at the World Championship selection camp, which was held Aug. 31-Sept. 3 at the Karolyi Ranch in Huntsville, Texas. She returned to the ranch last month to train with the team for the World Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria.
"The pre-camp was a great experience," Bravo said. "I had two of my (club) teammates who made it to the World Championships and, of course, we were all friends. Going from maybe two times a week to two trainings a day, it definitely took a toll on our bodies, especially mine. In the summer, I got to train a lot more, but it didn't exactly fit with the schedules here. It was just something I had to deal with."
After a week at the training camp and another eight days in Bulgaria, "I can't even express to you how my heart aches for these people."
"We did team bonding, and we got so close. They're like my best friends now," she said.
In her first semester at Baylor after two years on the competitive cheer team at Navarro Junior College in Corsicana, Bravo said her stress management class actually helped her with the competition anxiety.
"I've been kind of changing my mindset a lot lately," she said. "I would use stop-thought techniques, like, `OK, stop thinking about the negatives,' like `what if I hit my pass, instead of what if I fail.' I have definitely changed my way of thinking about that. And then, just controlling my breathing before I compete. It was such an amazing experience."
In the prelims, Bravo's second-round score of 32.100 tied for the eighth-best mark in the field of 34 competitors. Overall, her two-round score of 62.700 was just 2.60 points shy of qualifying for the eight-person individual finals.
"Going in, I wasn't necessarily expecting so much to make the individual finals. I was hoping, because anything can happen," she said. "I didn't have the most difficult passes, because I only train two times a week, whereas other athletes train every single week, a minimum of five days. So, I'm happy with how I did, me and my teammates."
What she found through the competition was that "I was hitting the same technique scores as a girl from Great Britain who's amazing.
"I started believing in myself, like I can do this if I have more difficult passes."
In the team finals, Bravo scored a 31.000 to help USA pass Russia and place fourth at 97.300, just 1.80 points behind bronze medalist France and 2.60 behind silver-medalist Great Britain.
"I could have done better, but I'm very happy with how I did," Bravo said. "It definitely gave me more confidence in myself, just to even land on my feet and not let the nerves get the best of me. It was awesome."
Returning back to Waco on Nov. 14, Bravo got back in time for an 8 a.m. class and went through an A&T practice that afternoon.
"The time change was just hitting me hard. I woke up like three times each night that week," she said. "I had practice for acro the day I got back, and they were so understanding. I was half asleep during practice. I thought it was 12 a.m., which I think it was back in Bulgaria. It just took me a while to get adjusted, and I knew it was going to happen."
While getting back in the school routine, Bravo has also been playing catch-up with team, "trying to get with them and be on the same path as them as far as skills and everything."
"I'll be honest, my heart, mind and soul were back in Bulgaria for the longest time," she said. "The memories were just so amazing, it was such a good first experience. It took me a while to kind of get my mind back here and focused on studying, being back on my schedule and doing study hall hours."
Bravo will make her Baylor debut when the three-time defending national champion Bears host Alderson-Broaddus in the season-opening dual meet at 1:30 p.m. Feb. 4 at the Ferrell Center.
"It's so exciting, I can't wait. The girls on the team are amazing," Bravo said. "We're all very close and we all work hard. It's good to be on a team like that, because I've been on a couple teams where you had some people who were 100 percent and others were like 50 percent. There were times when I was in the 50 percent group when I was starting to get out of cheerleading. With acro, if you're not fully in practice, you could get hurt."