Despite obstacles, Tabitha Yim writes her next chapter
For four years of her collegiate career, Tabitha Yim took to the mat wearing Cardinal red. For five seasons thereafter, she continued dawning the Cardinal red as an assistant coach for Stanford.
Come Saturday evening, all of that changes. When she steps onto the floor in McKale Center, she will no longer root for the school that has given her a gymnastics career. Instead, she will be holding the reigns of a young Arizona team, which has given many Pac-12 Conference powerhouses trouble this season.
“I’m pumped and I can’t wait to bring them here to Tucson and show them the amazing support here,” Yim said. “I had a great experience there and still have a great relationship with the head coach Krysten Smith. We want to bring everything we got, they are going to bring everything they got, but when you are competing from a place of love, it’s like you are competing against family.”
Yim knows gymnastics like the back of her hand. She first picked up the sport when she was 3 years old and grew up in a family all about sports and competition. That could be one reason why she has earned the most All-America honors in Stanford history.
“My dad loved every single sport. We used to watch everything,” Yim said. “Everything was a competition between me and my brother: who could get to the car the fastest? Oh, I put my seat belt on first. It was always that competitive, but supportive and fun, environment growing up.”
With such a young Arizona team that has most certainly had its ups and downs, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. The GymCats, however, have always been impressed with Yim’s composure.
“Coach Yim gets to know us personally and what works for us,” sophomore Kennady Schneider said. “She’s really good at individualizing us and knowing how to calm us down. She’s very big on keeping the energy calm when things might not go as planned and that has really helped us as a team this year. When she’s calm, you are calm. If she has the confidence in you, then you believe in yourself.”
The McKale Center crowd helps too. Yim believes Arizona fans are the best in the country and said that celebrating with the fans is what being a scholar athlete is all about.
“It’s a time to really go out there and have fun,” Yim said. “To make it a show and engage the audience and engage our athletes. To do everything we can to really make it feel like a family atmosphere. We rely on the crowd. I feel like Tucson is the place where you can really create something special.”
Things haven’t always gone Yim’s way. In fact, she’s had to overcome countless obstacles to head the Arizona gymnastics program. Her father died when she was just 13 years old and her skating coach did as well, just three months later.
“My dad always used to say that you are going to be the next female Bo Jackson, which was the plan, to make the Olympics in both ice skating and gymnastics,” Yim said. “As I got closer, I made the Olympic trials and got fourth to make the Olympic team and then the next day, I tore my Achilles [tendon]. I told myself, ‘I’m going to write a new story.’”
Although she was devastated, Yim has learned that success will come through failure.
“In my journey, I’ve always set high expectations and goals for myself, and I never actually achieve them,” Yim said. “Right now, I’m really grateful for that, especially when I taught, being able to stand in front of kids and say, ‘you know what, sometimes your dreams don’t come true.’ The truth is that things don’t always work out the way you planned. It’s been easier to connect with my athletes and my students because I’ve gone through those things, because I have something that I can share if they are going through a hard time.”
Yim has always had a passion for teaching others, which is one of the reasons she got into coaching in the first place. Before starting her coaching path, Yim taught through Teach for America in South Los Angeles.
“The stark contrast of the students I was working with and the struggles they were going through compared to just driving an hour south and not seeing any of those things,” Yim said. “Just really developing that empathy for them. Every single day, I would step into the classroom and say it doesn’t matter how I feel because I’m going to impact 155 kids that walk through my classroom today.”
That’s one of the reasons why her team truly believes in Yim’s process.
“There’s so much more to people than meets the eye,” Yim said. “Everybody has a story and if you can engage people and learn what that story is, you are able to have so much of a bigger impact and a better understanding of what makes them tick. I feel very lucky that I had that experience.”
Come Saturday, all eyes will be on Yim as she faces her alma mater for the first time during Arizona’s Heroes and Mentors Night.
“I want them to do what they have been doing every single day in practice,” Yim said. “Our biggest goal as a team is to be the hardest [working] team and staff in the nation. We want to peak at the very end of the year, which continues to be our goal. I have no doubt that we will be able to achieve it.”
Follow Matt Wall on Twitter.