The Daily Wildcat interviewed sophomore gymnast Jessica Castles via Zoom. Castles finished her freshman year with career highs in vault (9.850), balance beam (9.900) and floor exercise (9.900).
Castles and the GymCats finished sixth overall at the PAC-12 tournament, which was good enough to earn the team a postseason berth. It was the first postseason appearance for Castles and her teammates, who finished tied for third in their semifinal meet.
Daily Wildcat: What was your favorite part about growing up in England?
Jessica Castles: It is funny because I did not grow up in England. I was born there, and I lived there until I was about four years old. Then I moved to the Middle East in Qatar and lived there for nine years. All my childhood memories are there.
DW: Since you did not grow up in England after all, what was it like growing up in Qatar?
JC: I really enjoyed it. It was completely different to living in countries like England or America. I lived in a compound, which is like a gated community and it was safe. I remember being so free as a child. During the weekends I would just leave the house with my best friend and go to the sand dunes or the beach, which was cool.
DW: Why did your family move from England to Qatar?
JC: My Dad worked out there as a commercial director for a building company. He oversees the finances of all the building projects.
DW: Do you still live in Qatar? Or do you reside somewhere else?
JC: When I was 14 years old, I moved back to England because of gymnastics. That way I could get better training and coaching. We always had a home in England, and we would spend our summers there.
DW: When did you discover your love for gymnastics?
JC: For the longest time, I was in a recreational gymnastics club. I only did vault and floor [exercise] at not a very high level. Then I was scouted by the national team [of Qatar]. I do not know where they saw me, but they invited me to train with them. That is when I started doing gymnastics [professionally], but I was already 12, so I started late. I trained with them for two years. It was intense training, but it helped me get to where I am today, so I am very thankful for it.
DW: The records show that you also competed for Sweden, so how did you determine which country to compete for out of all the places you have lived?
JC: I have a very complicated life story. My dad is Northern Irish, and my mom is Swedish and then they just decided to move to England, and I was born there. When it came to choosing which country to compete for, I always felt that I had a bigger connection to Sweden. Growing up I always identified as being Swedish. We celebrate all the Swedish traditions, so I have always felt Swedish. It was important for me to represent that, so that is why I competed for Sweden.
DW: How did you discover the UA gymnastics program?
JC: The gym I went to [in England] had a lot of teammates who came [to Arizona]. They explained how fun it was being a college athlete and all the opportunities you get by coming out here. It inspired me.
DW: Why did you choose the UA?
JC: I looked around at a lot of schools and made my pros and cons list. Once I narrowed down my top schools I went and visited them, and I feel I had the best connection with the coaches here. It just felt as if everyone at Arizona was a big family. It was about the person, not just gymnastics. Especially with me being so far away from my family, it was nice knowing I had support from so many people.
DW: How would you sum up your first year with the team?
JC: Being a COVID-19 year, I think it was very different, for everyone. Everyone came in not knowing what to expect from the first practice of meet. It was very exciting, but there was so much going on.
DW: Which of the four main events is your favorite to compete in?
JC: This year I found a love for competing and training on [the balance] beam. I used to be so scared competing in [balance] beam and I still get more nervous, but after coming here I feel a lot more confident.
DW: What do you think the team needs to do next year to be able to beat top-ranked opponents?
JC: Last year we had a young team. Most of our routines were performed by underclassmen, so next year we will all be one year older. We will have the experience of competing and I do not think nerves will be that bad. We are going to come in better and I am really excited for it.
DW: How did it feel when your team advanced to the postseason?
JC: We were so excited to make it to regionals because for a while we were not sure if we were going to [advance].
DW: What was the team’s reaction when your teammate, Malia Hargrove, was announced as a floor exercise finalist at the national championships?
JC: We were excited to see her compete and supported her from home. It was super cool.
DW: What is it about head coach John Court that makes him such a great coach?
JC: He cares about us as people and not just gymnasts. There is something very special about that.
DW: What are some things you like to do besides gymnastics?
JC: I like to travel and explore new places. I love hanging out with my friends, family and my dog, Loki.
DW: If you had to pick one country to travel to, which would it be?
JC: Australia, because my best friend is from there. We grew up in Qatar together and when she moved back to Australia, I have always wanted to go see her.
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