Friday January 25, 2013Kytra Hunter: The Calm Before the Storm
By Sarah Gibson, UF Communications
“When you want to succeed as bad as you want to breathe, then you will be successful.” - Eric Thomas
For Kytra Hunter, a sophomore five-time All-American gymnast, her keys to success in the gym and in life go beyond perfecting her handstands on bars and polishing her stick landing on vault. The calm before the storm of excitement in the O’Connell Center and even before a four-hour practice, is when Hunter listens to the inspiring words of Eric Thomas on her iPod; someone she hasn’t met but has been a powerful force in her life for years.
Among his many callings, Thomas is a motivational speaker who travels all over the world to deliver his message of encouragement. His book entitled, “The Secret to Success,” has inspired Hunter in the gym and in the classroom at UF.
“He gives me a little extra motivation,” Hunter said. “Not every practice is going to be perfect so I like to have some words of encouragement in the back of my head that I can remember.”
To say Hunter had a successful first season as a Gator gymnast would be an understatement. The reigning NCAA all-around and vault champion did not register at the time all of the accolades she was capable of racking up.
“I didn’t really know all the accomplishments that you could get,” Hunter said. “My main focus last year was just getting in the gym, doing my job and doing what the coaches expected out of me.”
In addition to becoming the first Gator to win the NCAA all-around title and the second consecutive to claim the vault crown, Hunter was the 2012 Honda Award winner for the sport of gymnastics. Every year, the Honda Sports Award is given to the top women athletes in 12 NCAA-sanction sports. Hunter is the second Gator to claim the honor and first since Ann Woods in 1982.
Coming into her sophomore season she brings a different perspective in the gym, without the same questions and adjustments she had to make last year.
“I have the same skills that I had last year but this year my main focus is to be more confident in my skills,” she said.
Hunter acknowledges bars as her weakest event and said that she has been working hard in practice to hit her handstands. She has already seen results from her hard work in early meets.
“Being able to go out and get a 9.9 on bars in the first two meets was a great accomplishment for me,” Hunter said. “It has motivated me in practice to get even better and hit more handstands than what I have already hit.”
In last Friday’s meet, Hunter upped her top bars mark to 9.925 to give her collegiate-bests of 9.925 or above for each of the four apparatus. She set her all-around best of 39.725 to win the 2012 NCAA all-around title.
While Hunter is furthering her development as a gymnast, she is also growing as a leader on the team.
“This year I have tried as best as I can to step up as a leader,” said Hunter, who describes herself as a silent leader. “I try to bring the team together to work hard.”
Hunter, who grew up in Frederick, Md., sees her teammates like sisters and says the team is always there to support each other in and out of the gym.
“The girls have helped me a lot and I feel like I have helped them too,” Hunter said. “Little things like walking to class together and boosting each other up if we see each other down, I’m really thankful for that.”
Tonight’s Link to Pink meet holds a special meaning for Hunter who lost her grandmother to breast cancer in 2005.
“Having a meet dedicated to her and anyone else who is battling cancer or has lost a family member or friend to cancer is a great tradition that we have,” she said. “Wearing the pink with pride is a great feeling.”
With the support of her teammates, the words of Eric Thomas and her grandmother watching over her, Kytra Hunter is up for any challenge.