UA gymnast Victoria Ortiz finds the light through her struggles
Victoria Ortiz strikes a midair pose over the balance beam during Arizona's 194.025-191.600 win over Utah State and Texas Woman's at McKale Center on Friday, Jan. 6, 2017.
Rubbing the chalk against her hands, strapping her grips on tight, Victoria Ortiz takes a deep breath, says a small prayer and jumps into the air and grips the bars above her.
Ortiz is a Tucson native who never thought she would be a part of the UA gymnastics team nor be a gymnast at all.
“I was a cheerleader when I was eight and I wasn’t really interested in gymnastics,” Ortiz said. “But then I went to a gymnastics gym to learn more skills for cheer and the coach strongly suggested I should become a gymnast.”
Arizona Dynamics Club coach Gina Mueller-Martin suggested that Ortiz become part of her gymnastics program due to her quick ability to learn new skills.
“She was a little behind when she first started, but she worked really hard and moved up rapidly to get on our team,” Mueller-Martin said. “She was really physically gifted, having the highest vertical jump in the nation in her age group.”
Ortiz’s physical ability gave her the flexibility, strength and speed needed to transform into a collegiate athlete.
“Being behind I didn’t think of it as something that would be hard to do,” Ortiz said. “I looked at it as a competition and I wanted to win.”
Ortiz moved up quickly in skills and was able to be apart of Mueller-Martin’s competitive team at Arizona Dynamics.
“We had a cool group of kids and it was apparent that we were a family, and she just wanted to be apart of that,” Mueller-Martin said.
Ortiz soon found herself part of a family that would last forever.
“Gina is like my second mom,” Ortiz said. “She gives me advice and will put tips in my head to help me. I can just go to her and she will remind me how to focus on the event I’m doing and have faith in me.”
Faith is the one thing that Ortiz has held on to through the difficult times during her journey through gymnastics.
“I believe that everything I have is because of God,” Ortiz said. “If it weren’t for him I wouldn’t be where I’m at today. Every time I go onto the mat, I salute the judge and say to myself; ‘this is for him.’”
As Ortiz got older, injuries started getting in the way. From breaking her left foot, then right foot and then left foot again, she told herself that if she were to get injured again she would quit gymnastics.
“What do you know, I got injured again and I broke my right hand,” Ortiz said.
Ortiz decided to quit gymnastics at the age of 16.
“As soon as I had quit I had all this free time on my hands—or hand—and I kind of didn’t know what to do with myself,” Ortiz said. “I was able to hang out with my friends more, but it wasn’t fulfilling.”
Ortiz’s junior year of high school consisted of hanging out with friends almost everyday, while she tried to distract herself from becoming depressed.
“I got caught up in the wrong group of people when I quit and I tried to forget about the one thing I loved the most,” Ortiz said. “Depression soon took over as if I lost a piece of me and was trying to just cover up the emptiness.”
From long nights out with friends to laying in bed with tears rolling down her cheeks, Ortiz’ passion for gymnastics couldn’t be broken. Depression occupied Ortiz, but she then realized that gymnastics was what made her happy.
A year later Ortiz stood in front of Mueller-Martin at Arizona Dynamics asking—and hoping—she could come back and be part of the team.
“There would be no way I could’ve possibly got through the injuries and the bumps that I’ve been through without God,” Ortiz said.
As Ortiz’s senior year of high school approached, she knew it was going to be hard to fulfill her dreams of becoming a college gymnast.
UA gymnastics assistant coach John Court saw the potential in her that no one else saw.
“We talked a lot during her recruitment,” Court said. “She was local so it was easy for her to drive over anytime and see us. I wanted to give her a chance to grow as an adult, attend a place she always wanted to and assist her in completing her dream of being a GymCat.”
Ortiz ended up receiving an offer to Alaska, but denied it as soon as Court presented a walk-on spot to her dream school, the University of Arizona.
“When I was younger I used to attend all the home meets and hoped to be like them one day,” Ortiz said. “Now being on the team, looking into the crowd, I see all the little girls staring at me and it reminds me of how I used to have that hope that I see in their eyes.”
Walking on to the UA gymnastics team was intimidating at first, but Ortiz didn’t let that stop her from making her mark.
Ortiz showed what she had to offer, which led her to take over her freshman year as anchor of her specialty at uneven bars.
“She has one of the best bar releases in the nation. She took a skill that a large percentage of the country does and simply does it better,” Court said.
Now in her junior year, Ortiz is studying criminal justice in hopes to one day be a part of law enforcement.
As an upperclassman, Ortiz helps prepare the freshman for their division one journey ahead. Ortiz continues working on her powerful skills on the uneven bars and is training on beam for the upcoming 2017 season.
“I can see her providing quality depth and I would not be surprised to see her in the starting group,” Court said.
Ortiz is ready for the season to start and to show the fans what she is capable of. During her time as a Wildcat, Ortiz was provided with strength, encouragement and faith from the support of her parents Joni and David Ortiz.
“I am so proud of her,” said her mother, Joni. “[Victoria] has always been the one to push herself to get to where she wants to go.”
Ortiz’s mother is a fitness trainer and professional body builder who helps train people by making meal plans and getting them ready for body building shows.
“Both my parents have always been so supportive of my decisions,” Ortiz said. “They always make sure that I’m doing the right thing. They are one of my biggest support systems and I love them so much for everything.”
Ortiz hopes to live up to her record high of a 9.900 during the upcoming 2017 season on uneven bars.
“I love being apart of the GymCats and can’t wait for the upcoming season. I love doing what I do,” Ortiz said. “I’m ready to win.”
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