Determined and Talented, Barnegat Senior Gymnasts Keep Plugging Away

By DAVID BIGGY | Oct 18, 2019
Photo by: David Biggy Despite a very small team around them, Barnegat gymnasts Christina Golaszewski (left) and Gabrielle DeLillo are enjoying their senior season.

Barnegat — Knowing they were the only two comprising the Barnegat High School gymnastics team this fall, it could have been very easy for seniors Christina Golaszewski and Gabrielle DeLillo to bail out and not even bother competing.

“Not these two,” said Jennifer DeLeeuw, the first-year coach who inherited a depleted program following several losing seasons. “They’re great. They have a great work ethic, lots of leadership skills, and they really motivate each other. I don’t have any problems getting them to do things in practice.”

When practices began in August, Christina and Gabi were back for what most likely was going to be their final competitive season. It didn’t matter that they didn’t have a team of 10 other gymnasts around them – or even three or four others. It didn’t matter that they wouldn’t be able to win meets,unless the other team had only a few gymnasts.

“I definitely wish we had a bigger team,” Golaszewski said. “But I love gymnastics, and as a gymnast you’re still trying to beat your top scores because you’re never perfect. You’re always trying to get better, and that doesn’t change.”

Once a home-schooled gymnast who competed at an extremely high level, DeLillo still possesses excellent skills despite no longer competing at the elite club level and skipping much of her sophomore season at Barnegat for personal reasons.

“I regret quitting my sophomore year because I probably would have been a better gymnast today if I didn’t do that,” said DeLillo, who this season has consistently posted all-around scores in the mid-30s. “At this level, you feel burnt out after a while, but you have to find a way to keep going. I didn’t want my senior year to go by without gymnastics. Even with a new coach and no team around us, I would have regretted not coming back.”

DeLeeuw is glad they did. Even without more gymnasts on the roster – by later in September, the Bengals had another when freshman Ariah Taurgrasso “just showed up one day” – the team managed to score a 70.375 to beat Central Regional, mainly on the strength of the seniors’ all-around scores.

And while that result doesn’t seem like a big deal, it really is for a program that will be rebuilding next season around a freshman – should she return. In that sense, having Golaszewski and DeLillo this year will prove to be quite valuable.

“They’ve been very helpful with developing Ariah,” DeLeeuw said. “She sees their work ethic and doesn’t want to give up on anything because they don’t give up on anything, and that’s been great for her. They want to see her get better, and lately they’ve been working a lot more with her to help her get better.”

Still, the seniors have to remain motivated to keep striving for their personal goals, as well as the team goals DeLeeuw sets in front of them. And for that, Gabi and “Beans” rely on each other.

“There’s no question the bond between Christina and me helps us when we compete,” DeLillo said. “To keep getting better, you have to come to practice with a lot of courage because that’s where you develop all your skills for competition. But without the support of your teammates, it’s hard. I need Beans with me at practice because we are each other’s support. Our bond is a forever bond. We couldn’t do this without each other.”

For a long time, Golazeswski had a “mental block” regarding a particular skill she once had in her repertoire – that sometimes happens when a gymnast lands on her neck while doing it, and the effect can last for years.  DeLillo’s support, along with DeLeeuw’s continued positive reinforcement, got her through it.

“We know what we can do, and we push each other to keep getting better,” said Golaszewski, who plans to go to Ocean County College next fall as she starts working toward a career in nursing. “If I didn’t have Gabi or our coach, I’d still have that mental block. It’s hard to overcome it, but you have to keep trying to get it back, and they’ve been there to help me do it.”

Interestingly, returning to their higher skill levels hasn’t come by DeLeeuw ranting at them during practices or even challenging them to do a skill they knew they weren’t ready to attempt, but rather by an encouraging, fun approach.

“The ‘Camp Rock’ soundtrack is on all the time, and we have a lot of fun,” Golaszewski said. “This has been the best season we’ve had during our past four years, and it’s because of our coach. She’s made a big difference for us.”

DeLillo, whose plan is to major in business in college and who likely will start her path at OCC next fall, said she couldn’t have imagined a better senior season.

“As a senior, you want to have as much fun as possible while competing at a high level,” she said. “Coach DeLeeuw has made this season so awesome for us because she understands us and what we want for ourselves, and encourages us while challenging us. I’ve done more skills this season, just because of her influence. She makes me want to try harder, but in a fun way.”

And while DeLeeuw knows she won’t get to coach the two seniors beyond the next few weeks, she wouldn’t have traded this season for anything.

“As a board certified behavior analyst, I have some tough days, but they are my motivation to get up every day and come to work,” she said. “After I’m done, I get to come to the gym and be with Christina and Gabi, and it gives me the chance to enjoy this time with them, to help make their senior year special. I wanted them to enjoy their last season here and keep it close to their hearts.”

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