Senior Denasiha Christian performs her routine on the beam during the meet against Illinois State and Eastern Michigan on Jan. 24 at Worthen Arena. DN PHOTO KORINA VALENZUELA
Denasiha Christian: From walk-on to regional competitor
From a young age, Denasiha Christian's grandmother knew what her future was going to hold.
“When I was two [years old], I was running around the house and my grandma completely called it. [She] knew I was going to be a gymnast,” said Christian, a Ball State senior gymnast.
After three years of being an alternate at the NCAA regionals, Christian will be competing in two individual events in the Iowa City Regional.
Even with her first place performances on both floor and vault at the Mid-American Conference championships, Christian didn't think she would qualify individually for regional competition.
"I sat for two meets before MAC, so I thought I was out of the running for Regionals. I dropped from first to sixth place, and I thought it was a wrap [on my career],” Christian said. “It was super bittersweet because mentally I was happy with where I was at ... It’s awesome, and I can appreciate that I get to compete one more time.”
As Christian's career was getting started in club gymnastics, she knew she wanted to compete in college - not only because she loved the sport, but also to help her family.
“I always wanted to do college gymnastics, so especially knowing [my family's] financial situation, it [would be] my way to get through school," Christian said. “Coming here I just really liked the team. I really liked the coaches at the time, and I was offered a two-year [scholarship].”
Christian was offered a scholarship to attend Ball State, but since she almost committed to another university before returning to Ball State's radar, her scholarship was awarded to someone else and she joined as a walk-on.
The Ball State gymnastics team went through a coaching change before her sophomore year, forcing Christian to wait until her junior year to receive the two-year scholarship she was originally hoping for.
During the three years head coach Joanna Saleem has coached Christian, she has seen significant growth.
“She has always had the potential, but to see her reach her goals after working so hard from that first year all the way up to this year, it is just a really interesting thing to watch as a coach,” Saleem said. “She is a strong leader on the team, and it is one of the things that I am really proud of. She has shown she is there for everyone on the team, and not just for herself. It is just really exciting.”
Junior gymnast Sarah Ebeyer has been in the same lineup with Christian since her freshman year and will be competing in the same two events at the NCAA regionals.
Ebeyer complimented Christian’s ability to bring the team together both inside and outside of the gym.
“It’s amazing to me seeing how, after her being so successful, she still just cares and wants the team to do well. It really contributes to the team atmosphere,” Ebeyer said. “I think that each year of kind of figuring out life, she has really developed into this wonderful woman. And [to see] how strong she is being so far away from home, with not having her parents to be able to come here see her compete, is just phenomenal.”
Christian grew up around eight hours away from Muncie in Roanoke City, Va. Her family can’t come to every meet, but she still credits them as her biggest supports.
“They make fun events out of my meets. Everyone goes to my dad’s house, and they watch the meet on TV or online,” Christian said. “My other supporters definitely would be my coaches and my teammates, because they are my family here.”
Christian said her family will not be attending Regionals at the University of Iowa on April 2, but she will be joined by four teammates who qualified for regional competition as well.
She has always focused on the team score rather than her individual performance.
“You want the team to do well. You don’t just want your name in the papers, you want the team’s name in there,” Christian said. “I think this year has been the strongest year for that.”
Christian’s dedication to the program is something Saleem has seen her show throughout her career.
“There is no cutting corners with her,” Saleem said. “She has bought into the program and has created this image of trying to represent Ball State in the best way she can.”
In the coming years, Christian hopes the team can continue its upward trend, and encourages the Cardinals to stay hungry for success after their second-place finish at the MAC championships.
“The mindset is there. Everyone is thinking how we got second, and that it is not even our best gymnastics yet,” Christian said.
Although Christian has nearly completed her successful four-year career with the team, she will be staying around the area taking classes and preparing for her next step in her life.
Her career may be over at the end of this season, but that doesn’t mean her love for the sport will be.
“I’ve had 20 years of [gymnastics], and now I want to find out what else I’m good at,” Christian said. “I’m excited for job searching and interviews and all that good stuff, so that is next on my list. ... I am definitely going to be popping my head in the gym during my free time.”