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Kocian: ‘This Year Is For All The People That Have Helped Me’
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2016 Olympic gold and silver medalist Madison Kocian may be in the waning months of her gymnastics career, but she is still giving her all to her sport and her UCLA team that will be contending for upcoming conference, regional and national collegiate titles.

Kocian’s serviceable strengths, especially on uneven bars, distinguished her throughout her international career. Born June 15, 1997, in Dallas, she trained under coaches Laurent Landi and Cecile Canqueteau-Landi at WOGA in her home state. Kocian was a team gold medalist at the 2014 and 2015 World Championships, and shared in a four-way title for gold on uneven bars at the 2015 Worlds. She won gold in the team final and silver on uneven bars at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, after which she enrolled at UCLA along with her 2014 Worlds and 2016 Olympic teammate Kyla Ross.

Despite shoulder injuries that have bookended her four-year stint at UCLA, Kocian has earned All-American status seven times. She was a member of the UCLA team that placed fourth at the 2017 NCAA Championships, first at the 2018 NCAAs and third at the 2019 NCAAs. A psychology major, Kocian is a three-time Scholastic All-American and serves as a team representative for UCLA’s Student-Athlete Mentor program.

The tenacious Kocian spoke with International Gymnast Online at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion after her team’s March 8 meet against the University of California-Berkeley.

IG: What are your hopes or plans for competing all-around by the end of the season?

MK: I definitely can’t with my shoulder, especially vault. I’m hoping that for the Senior Meet (vs. the University of Bridgeport on March 14) I get to go on beam again. We just have to switch my routine around a bit, because I was getting some nerve pain in my shoulder around the tear doing the series. We’d definitely have to switch some skills up if I want to try to compete beam, but for right now, it’s bars and floor. Then we’ll see if Marz (teammate Margzetta Frazier) can get healthy for floor. It’s just about being fluid with the lineups, and whatever is best for the team, that’s what I’ll be there for.

IG: Bars has always been your best event, and with a shoulder injury hindering you perhaps most of all on bars, how have you navigated that situation physically and psychologically?

MK: It’s hard because I felt I managed my body and my health all summer long, and didn’t train too much in the summer, but just enough to feel the skills that I wanted to be able to compete this year. And then an unfortunate thing happened (at the end of September 2019), just doing a dismount and my shoulder slipped out. It’s pretty much torn the same as the left one was, and like how I competed freshman season with the labrum and bicep, so I had to make the decision if I wanted to do surgery or not. But if I would have had surgery, I wouldn’t have been back until probably Pac-12s (conference championships on March 21), so I decided to rehab as much as I can. It’s definitely harder on certain days, because I’ll be doing well a couple days and then the next day I’m in a lot of pain, and reality hits. My coaches and my teammates have been the ones to get me through the hard days. Even today we weren’t sure if I was competing bars or not, and I was scheduled to be the alternate because this week was kind of rough, but I will probably get a little more rest this week. I don’t really train much on bars during the week, and just try to compete. But for how I feel ready, I do a lot of mental sets and mental training in the gym. Since I’ve been doing the skills for so long, honestly what helps more is doing that (mental training) and conditioning with our strength coach, and kind of easing off on the training a little bit.

IG: Where and how have you found the motivation to continue despite the latest injury?

MK: It’s hard on certain days because I know everything I do is going to hurt it, so it’s hard sometimes to push your body to do something when you know it’s going to cause you pain. But for me, this season, I’m trying to cherish every moment since it is my last year of gymnastics. I have a really close relationships with all of my teammates, and everything I’m doing this year is for them, because I’ve pretty much accomplished what I wanted to accomplish — going to the Olympics, winning a national championship and getting All-American. So this year is for all the people that have helped me throughout my career and about trying to give back, and especially enjoying the last year with my teammates.

IG: What are you planning to do with your psychology degree? What’s next for you after you graduate UCLA?

MK: I am looking into graduate school. I want to go to PA (physician’s assistant) school. I’ve always loved working with kids and always wanted to do something with pediatrics. This past summer I got really close with my shoulder surgeon and his family. He asked me to speak on an athlete advocacy panel at an orthopedic conference in Boston. So I think I want to go into orthopedics. I chose psychology because I felt it had a lot to do with the sport and what I’ve been through, and half of the prereqs for PA graduate school overlap with my major, so I’m going to take an extra year and finish some of the other science classes I need and get extra work hours before I apply. I definitely want to stay out in LA (for the next year), and Kyla and I will probably live together, so it will be fun. We’ve been roommates last year and this year.

IG: What is it like rooming with Kyla, considering you were Olympic and World Championships teammates, as well as together a lot at U.S. training camps?

MK: Sometimes people are like, “I could never live with my best friend because it ruins the relationship.” There are four of us (UCLA teammates) — Kyla, Felicia (Hano), Mercedez (Sanchez) and I. Felicia and Mercedez room together, and they’re the more chill ones. Kyla and I are kind of the same person. It’s really funny. Since we have the same schedule and I feel the same mindset and the same underlying foundation, values and upbringing, I think that’s why we get along so well.

IG: How involved in the sport do you plan to stay after you’ve finished competing?

MK: I will follow it for sure. I don’t think I can go from this much to nothing. Even now, when I’m not able to train or compete, that’s what fills me up — if I can help my teammates in any way, even with the slightest corrections, because sometimes they hear it from the coach so many times and it doesn’t register. In the summer I do certain camps. It’s exciting to see how I can have an impact on little girls, because that’s where I was at one time. I will definitely stay involved, especially since Simone (Biles) is still going for the Olympics and previous teammates are as well. I think I will always stay involved with UCLA because they made me feel a part of their Bruin family, and it’s always going to be a special home for me.

Photo courtesy of UCLA Athletics.

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