IOWA CITY, Iowa -- University of Iowa women's gymnastics alum Houry Gebeshian, who competed for the Hawkeyes from 2008-11, has earned the prestigious honor of competing on the world's largest competitive stage at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The all-arounder is the first and only female gymnast to represent the Republic of Armenia and will compete as an individual this August.
Gebeshian has been striving for her Olympic dream for many years, missing Olympic qualification by three positions in 2012 because of injury. In 2016, balancing a full-time job as a physician's assistant and training on her own without a coach at Gymnastics World in Broadview Heights, Ohio, finally paid off.
"It is so rewarding and such a relief to say that I made it," Gebeshian said. "It was a devastating experience to not have qualified four years ago. That pushed me to do it this time around. I went through my training very systematically and was a lot smarter about it.
"It feels great and I finally feel accomplished. Not qualifying in 2012, I felt like I was missing something, but I've made my dream happen. It's something I can go to and enjoy."
A dual citizen of the United States and Republic of Armenia, Gebeshian received the official Olympic announcement confirming her qualification via email in the wee hours of the morning following her performance at the Olympic Test Event inside the Rio Olympic Arena in Brazil. She shared the moment with her fiancé and family members who were able to make the trip with her.
The Olympic Test Event not only solidified Gebeshian's fate, it also gave her a unique opportunity to compete on the same equipment and inside the same arena she will enter as an Olympian in August.
"It was cool because you got to feel the equipment and get comfortable," Gebeshian said. "You don't ever get that experience. Normally, you get podium training, compete, and then you're done. It's nice to know what to expect in August."
Since returning from the Olympic Test Event in April, Gebeshian has been sticking to her routine and honing her skills for her Olympic debut. She has even invented her own skill to a routine; one that, if successfully executed, would be named after her, etching her legacy in the Code of Points gymnastics scoring handbook forever.
A monumental opportunity like competing on the Olympic stage could be a nerve-wracking and emotional experience for many, but for Gebeshian the nerves are absent.
"Everyone keeps asking me if I'm nervous for the Olympics," Gebeshian said. "I'm not nervous yet, maybe that will change when I get there, but the work is done. Qualifying was the hard part and nerve-wracking part for me.
"Now that I've made it, my mindset is to go out, experience it, have fun, and soak it all in. If you're so focused on the competition and getting to the next spot, you completely lose the moment. I want to focus on the moment, enjoy it, and experience it all. I want to show everyone what I have as a gymnast, but I also know I do my best when I'm having a good time and enjoying myself."
Gebeshian attributes her mindset, competitive edge, and maturity to her experience as a UI women's gymnast. As a Hawkeye, she earned three All-Big Ten honors, including first-team recognition in 2009 and second-team honors in 2010 and 2011. The 26-year-old was also a Big Ten individual champion on balance beam, a three-time Academic All-American, and Academic All-Big Ten honoree.
"My years at Iowa helped me mature as a woman, athlete, and adult," Gebeshian, who will be 27-years-old when she takes the Olympic stage, said. "Those characteristics have transferred to where I'm at now in life. I learned to compete there and it built a mental toughness in me.
"I love the sport and I learned to appreciate it even more as a gymnast at the University of Iowa. I'm forever grateful for being a part of the team. Those girls and coaches are my best friends, and I wouldn't be where I am today without their support."
The upcoming opportunity is a dream come true for Gebeshian and sharing the experience with those around her has been a treat. Her coworkers, friends, family, and the public have been supportive of her journey, but the best part of becoming an Olympian has been the ability to share her story with young girls striving for their own big dreams.
"(Sharing my story) is the best part of all of this," Gebeshian said. "It's not every day that you get to train alongside an Olympian or know an Olympian. It's easy to think becoming an Olympian is unachievable or just so difficult, so I think it's great for young girls to see that it is attainable, realistic, and here in front of them.
"I hope this is inspiring younger generations to strive for the dreams they have, even if others are telling them they are unattainable. It's not. If you want to make it happen, you can make it happen, no matter what it is."
Gebeshian, a native of Newton, Massachusetts, arrives in Rio on August 1 and will begin Olympic competition August 7. She will walk in the Opening Ceremony, stay in the Olympic Village, and remain in Brazil to experience the rest of the Olympic Games.
Hawkeye fans interested in following Gebeshian's journey, can visit her official fan page at facebook.com/armeniangymnast/. She is also raising funds to assist with travel costs for her and her family to attend the Olympics. Those interested in helping can visit her GoFundMe page at gofundme.com/hootingforhoury.