Mexico gymnast follows untraditional path to Gophers

Susan Filkins

A package of a red jelly-like substance, resembling something like the inside of a Fig Newton lied on a desk next to Gophers gymnast Judith Cavazos. It’s called Tamarindo and though it sounds like a strange snack, it’s a popular one in Mexico.
“It tastes acidic, like lemon,” Cavazos said. “It’s not healthy, but I brought it because I knew I would miss Mexican things.”
Cavazos, a freshman from Monterrey, Mexico, moved in to her new home in Sanford Hall just six days ago. Complications with paperwork and transferring credits from the University of Monterrey resulted in Cavazos missing fall quarter at Minnesota. She finally received clearance to compete for the Gopher women’s gymnastics team last month.
“The amount of work it took Judith to get in school here was equal to the work they put getting the other 13 women total,” Coach Jim Stephenson said. “It was absolutely a nightmare process that we hope is resulting in a dream of a lifetime situation.”
Beginning with tumbling at the age of 8, Cavazos first learned gymnastics from watching her brother and sister perform. She also recalls watching gymnastics in the Olympic Games in Los Angeles.
“First my brother and sister were in gymnastics,” Cavazos said. “When I was little, my sister taught me cartwheels and things like that.”
Cavazos joined a couple of different gymnastics clubs close to her home before settling on the Elite Gymnastics Academy where she stayed for seven years. Adriana Porte, her coach in Monterrey, coached Cavazos to five World Championships and the 1995 University Games.
“(Porte) was like my second mom. We were very close, and we have a lot of similarities,” Cavazos said.
Competing against the Dynamo Gymnastics Club in Oklahoma in 1992, Cavazos placed second in the balance beam behind 1996 U.S Olympian Kerri Strug and in front of Strug’s teammate and fellow Olympian Shannon Miller.
Cavazos explained her fortunes at that meet by saying she simply landed her routine, but her success should not be mistaken for luck.
In fact, Cavazos came close to making the 1996 Mexican Olympic team after competing in the 1995 World Championships in Japan and left Monterrey as the top-ranked female gymnast in Mexico. Her journey to Minnesota was an interesting one — far from a standard recruitment.
“I was contacted by some people here in town who were hosting an exchange student who was her brother,” Stephenson said. “They had heard that the University had a good gymnastics program for women, and they knew that Hector (Cavazos’ brother) had a sister who was pretty accomplished.
“So without getting too excited about it, we developed a correspondence, and within a few weeks, I got a videotape of Judith and that put her at the top of our recruiting list. She wanted to come to Minnesota, and she had heard a lot of good things from her brother.”
Jan and Ron Thompson, of Anoka, Minn., were Hector’s host parents. Hector and Cavazos’ sister Isabel taught Spanish at Anoka High School for a foreign exchange program.
Last year when Isabel got married in Mexico, the Thompsons made the trip to the wedding. After discussing with Porte the possibility of Cavazos competing in Minnesota, the plans began rolling.
“(Porte) was talking to (the Thompsons) about the possibility to come to the University,” Cavazos said. “So the family said what do we need to do, and (Porte) said just take a video of Judith doing gymnastics to the University and that is how they do it.”
After viewing the tape, Stephenson sent Cavazos two letters last January. He then followed up with a phone call to Cavazos giving her instructions on different paper work to fill out.
“(The Thompsons) took that video to Minnesota, and I didn’t think they would think anything of it really,” Cavazos said.
Cavazos had already heard a great deal about Minnesota and was elated about the chance to go to school and compete for the Gophers.
After visiting campus last April with her parents, Cavazos decided to accept Minnesota’s scholarship offer last June.
“Getting this scholarship is like enjoying this experience here and getting a career and enjoying school,” Cavazos said. “I am very, very, happy.”
Cavazos and her teammates will open their season Saturday at the Sports Pavilion during the Best of Minnesota meet. The Gophers will compete against Hamline College, Gustavus Adolphus College, and Winona State University.