Two teenagers from Parkland and a teenager from Coral Springs were among five American Twisters gymnasts who put pen to paper at the start of National Signing Day Nov. 9 at the Coconut Creek Gym.
Samara Buchanan from Parkland (Ohio State), Haylen Zabrowski from Parkland (University of Michigan), and Jessica Naranjo from Coral Springs (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) are all seniors at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Two others, Chloe Seaga from Miami (Arizona State) and Gabby Linden (Temple) are students at Florida Virtual School and Spanish River High School respectively. Linden splits his residences between Boca Raton and Delray. Linden, 17, wants to study law, while Seaga, also 17, focuses her education on medical studies.
Buchanan, 17, committed to Ohio State last year and said she was happy to secure the signing. She won the all-around at the Florida State Championships last year in addition to vault, bars and beam.
“I love the culture at Ohio State,” said Buchanan, a five-time nationals qualifier who is looking to become a biomedical engineer. “It’s a great community with lots of opportunity and I look forward to working with the coaches at Ohio State. It’s a full scholarship and it’s very exciting.
“At first, I was just doing gymnastics for fun,” she says, “but growing up, I saw older kids doing what I do today, and I was inspired. It’s crazy. The journey was long. I took advantage of all the opportunities I had. Some people are naturally talented and I had to work for everything.
Zabrowski, 17, chose Michigan because the gymnastics program is highly ranked and the school’s academics are also well thought out. Zabrowski, who plans to become a physical therapist, has qualified for nationals every time she has traveled to states or regions, but has only been able to make nationals twice due to injuries.
“I knew I could thrive in both environments,” she said. “Looking back, I will remember all the hardships I had to overcome and how they made me a better gymnast overall.
“When there was COVID, we were out of the gym for so long,” she said. “I also had a health issue where I couldn’t train at all for three months. Looking back and being ready for the season and qualifying for the Nationals that year was really special. It’s so surreal because these girls have signed up with their dream schools, and it’s finally happening for me. I can’t say in words that it’s happening for me.
Naranjo, 17, who has worked with American Twisters for nearly six years, has signed with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she plans to study biology.
“It’s a very big day for me,” she said. “I have dreamed of this day since I was very little and I was finally able to achieve my goal of obtaining a university scholarship.
“When I started gymnastics I must have missed a few vacations here and there, but at the end of the day I got to where I wanted to be,” she said. “This is my dream school. “My family always wanted me to get a scholarship and I could have done it academically, but gymnastics is my passion, and it’s what I wanted to do. It really helps them.
Like his teammates, Linden, who chose Temple University, received a comprehensive package that covers books, tuition and equipment to spend the next four years at school.
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Gary Anderson, American Twisters’ competitive team coordinator, said there were only 32 schools that offered varsity gymnastics and only 120 gymnasts would receive money each year.
“We have five of the 120,” Anderson told the crowd at the signing ceremony. There were nearly 200 friends, family and fellow gymnasts who packed the mat to celebrate the signings. “We have about $1.2 million that has been given to these girls. It’s quite impressive.
Anderson said each scholarship is about $60,000 a year per athlete for nearly $250,000 over their four-year career. Nearly 60 gymnasts have gone to college through the Twisters program.
“After tuition and books,” Anderson said, “they also get about $5,000 in gear, including leotards, shoes, and other clothing.”
American Twisters optional levels head coach Christy Ramirez said it was a bittersweet day for her.
“It’s…surreal because they’ve done so much to get here,” Ramirez said. “It’s such an accomplishment for them and for everyone involved. I tried to hold back my tears (as she talked about every gymnast) but it was so difficult because you spend all day here.
“For many of them it’s been at least six years and some for 11 years, six days a week for 4.5 hours a day,” she said. “That’s it. It’s their life. They just blew my mind. They’re so smart and so dedicated that I’m not surprised they’re aiming for big things and big degrees.