Aubergine

The most decorated gymnast in Stanford history finds peace in coaching

January 20, 2015

Tabitha Yim says, “not everyone achieves their dreams and when I talk to my athletes now, I tell them I didn’t, but I’m okay. Just because you don’t, doesn’t mean you can’t be happy. You can always build new dreams and pursue them just as passionately.”

Stanford assistant coach Tabitha Yim and Ashley Morgan during the NCAA Championships at UCLA. (Courtesy of Tabitha Yim)

Stanford assistant coach Tabitha Yim and Ashley Morgan during the NCAA Championships at UCLA. (Courtesy of Tabitha Yim)

Tabitha Yim during her collegiate years at Stanford in 2008 (Courtesy of Tabitha Yim)

Tabitha Yim during her collegiate years at Stanford in 2008 (Courtesy of Tabitha Yim)

By Brian Han

When Tabitha Yim graduated from Stanford University as the most decorated gymnast in the school’s history in 2008, she decided it was time to move on.

After all, she had been involved with the sport since she was three years old.

The journey had been an emotional and physical roller coaster filled with Olympic aspirations, struggles with injuries, international competition and her father’s passing at the age of 13.

It was an appropriate time to step back, reflect and see what else the world had to offer her. Or rather what she could now offer to the community.

Teach for America appealed to those needs as Yim taught a science class to underprivileged youth in Los Angeles.

Gymnastics was far from her mind when she got a call from a familiar voice — her college head coach, Kristen Smyth. All of the sudden it was back on her radar when she was offered an assistant coaching position at her alma mater.

“I actually told her no when she first called me and said I would stick with teaching,” Yim recalls. “I never thought in a million years that I would ever get into coaching.”

Despite her initial reaction, enough time had passed that a small part of her felt the desire to return to the world of athletics.

“That call planted a seed in my head and I couldn’t stop thinking about it,” she said. “I talked about it with my family, ended my Teach for America and pursued coaching. It was a tough decision to make.”

That was in 2010.

Now the 29-year-old Stanford assistant coach is fully immersed in her role and enjoying the position even though it’s not quite what she expected.

As a coach, one has to look at the sport through an entirely different lens. During her undergraduate tenure as a pre-med student and an NCAA Division I athlete, she had enough on her plate that trying to comprehend the coaching aspect never really crossed her mind.

“I never realized how big recruiting was in college,” Yim said. “I’m less interested in talent and more interested in their work ethic and heart. Stanford’s a difficult place because you’re going to be challenged both in the classroom and in the gym. I really look for those kids who have a little bit of grit.”

Her recruiting standards probably come from her own personal experiences.

Years before she attended Stanford, she began to compete at the highest level of gymnastics, also known as elite gymnastics. Elites are usually the group from which Olympians are chosen.

Deep into the Olympic trials in 2004, Yim had performed well, but injured her Achilles in a way that would change the direction of her career.

“I knew right when I punched, [a term for bouncing off of a floor or apparatus], that my elite career was over,” she said.

Granted she went on to continue a very successful college career, but the incident still came with some disappointment.

“I’ve been able to connect with so many people through this experience and I’m grateful for that,” Yim said. “Not everyone achieves their dreams and when I talk to my athletes now, I tell them I didn’t, but I’m okay. Just because you don’t, doesn’t mean you can’t be happy. You can always build new dreams and pursue them just as passionately.”

In addition to coaching, the horizon’s are widening for Yim. She recently became a Brevet judge meaning that she’ll start judging international competitions at the elite level.

Whatever she decides to pursue, there happens to be an overflowing circle of support among her family.

Tabitha with her ever supportive family and friends (Courtesy of Tabitha Yim)

Tabitha with her ever supportive family and friends (Courtesy of Tabitha Yim)

While Yim was still competing, her mother and brother would follow her to many of her meets regardless of how far they happened to be from their home at the time in Orange County, California. That meant traveling to Utah, Oregon, Nevada and around the world.

“My mom and my brother were right there with me regardless,” she said.

Even though each of them now live in different cities, they still find ways to connect.

She speaks highly of her brother and best friend, Jonathan Yim who is currently the video coordinator for the Portland Trail Blazers and interviewed with The Korea Times in November.

“I’m a big basketball fan,” she said. “Whenever they play the Golden State Warriors, I go to see him.”

As for her father, he still plays a big role in her life even though it’s been over 15 years since his passing, especially when it comes to her long term goals.

At times it’s something she’s not fully aware of until after her ideas have been laid out.

“One day I’d like to open a community center that teaches leadership through gymnastics,” Yim said. “I didn’t realize it then but when I spoke with my mom, it was very similar to the vision my dad had.”

4 Comments

  1. Lisa

    January 20, 2015 at 6:13 PM

    What a great family. I have always thought the pursuit of a sport wasn’t worth it unless 1. you’re good enough to make it and 2. there is a real pro league. This article made me realize that there are alternate opportunities that can arise from being so involved. Glad to hear Tabitha found a way to merge her two passions.

  2. Emmanuelle

    January 21, 2015 at 7:37 AM

    She didn’t hurt herself at the 2002 Olympic trials as the trials were in 2004.

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