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Athlete in Focus: Hannah Thompson

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Thompson poses after finishing her routine from Nationals in 2016.

Thompson poses after finishing her routine from Nationals in 2016.

Thompson poses after finishing her routine from Nationals in 2016.

After three years of dedication to Legacy Elite Gymnastics, the hostile environment became unbearable, and Hannah Thompson made the difficult decision of ending that chapter of her life. She mailed a letter to her coaches, knowing it would be too difficult to say goodbye in person, and never once did she hear back from them. Her coaches’ silence proved to she and her family they were right in leaving.

Beginning in eighth grade, Thompson left Percy Julian Middle School early every day, having her dad pick her up so they could drive 45 minutes to Legacy Elite. After a four- or five-hour practice, she would get dropped off by another girl’s family at the train stop, leaving her to take the Metra train home alone. She went through this routine Monday through Saturday, week after week.

“I really felt like an athlete-student instead of a student-athlete. There were no free minutes,” Thompson said.

Her goal through it all was to get the opportunity to compete at the collegiate level, a goal that seemed attainable because she was competing at level 10. The only competitors above level 10 are the ones on the elite level who go on to compete in the Olympics.

Despite the success Thompson was having, all things were not well. She was surrounded by cutthroat coaches and self-interested athletes.

I really felt like an athlete-student instead of a student-athlete.”

— Hannah Thompson

“The environment in the gym was very harsh for everybody that was in there,” she said. “Over time, the negativity became super super toxic.”

Ultimately, it was Thompson’s mom who stepped in to say the positives were no longer outweighing the negatives. During Thompson’s sophomore year, her family collectively decided for her to leave Legacy Elite.

“I don’t think I would’ve been able to make the decision on my own to leave Legacy. It was really something my parents helped me with because you get so attached to something like that and can’t imagine your life without it.”

Suddenly, the unimaginable thought of not having gymnastics became Thompson’s reality. She took a break from gymnastics for the entire summer, debating whether she would ever pick the sport up again. “I went back and forth about it all summer because I really didn’t know if I wanted to just leave it where it was.”

She made the decision to join OPRF’s cross country team to move away from the competitive atmosphere she was so used to. “I transferred over to high school sports because I was looking for more of a high school experience and a better time for the amount of work I was putting in,” she said.

At that point, Thompson was still on a hiatus from gymnastics and trying to fully commit herself to the running season.

“I really try to just focus on the season that I’m in and play it by ear. I take everything as it comes.”

She wrapped up her very first high school sports season with a near state qualification, giving herself the goal of making it to state next year.

Now, Thompson is back to the bars and beam, this time as a Huskie. “I felt like it would be a waste of time and energy to stop gymnastics altogether. There are places where I think I can help the OPRF team, and if I can do that, I definitely should,” she said.

“Hannah definitely drives people to work harder at practices,” teammate Zion Phillpotts said. “She’s completely inspired me to do better in gymnastics.”

Although Thompson hopes to contend for state and bring her team success, she is ultimately trying to have more fun with the sport than she’s had in the past. “I think this team will allow Hannah to be a gymnast in a much different way than she has experienced in the past,” coach Bill Grosser said.

She is already embracing the warmer environment, as she and her teammates share laughs in the hallways during team dress up days.

Thompson’s future has yet to be decided, but she most likely will not pursue gymnastics past high school. She said a path involving running or pole vaulting is much more appealing to her at this point.

“Gymnastics never got to be too much for me. I just was never in the right environment.”

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