Women’s Gymnastics | 2/20/2021 7:30:00 AM
Alexis Russell Kochanski was a four-year letterwinner for Gopher gymnastics from 2007-2010 and competed in a variety of events, qualifying for the NCAA Championships in the all-around her senior season. She was named Minnesota’s Most Valuable Performer in 2010 and was a two-time First-Team All-Big Ten honoree.
GopherSports: What does Black History Month mean to you?
Alexis Russell Kochanski: Black History Month means a celebration of the achievements and history of Black Americans in our country. There is so much pain in our country’s history for Black Americans, but there are also areas of beauty and progress. Every year this month gives me deep reflection and appreciation of those before me that sacrificed so much for me to be where I am today
GS: What did it mean to be one of the first African American gymnasts to compete at the University of Minnesota?
AK: For me it means progress. Every barrier broken down by one person makes it easier for those behind them to follow. There is so much power in visual representation and my favorite experiences as a Gopher gymnast were seeing Black gymnasts eyes light up with aspiration and hope during meets. The more we see others who look like us doing things we aspire to do, the more it becomes a reality. Even in the professional world for me today, seeing Black women in leadership roles I aspire to be in expands my thinking of what is possible and a visual reminder I am deserving of being in this space of power, even though others may not look like me. Being one of the first African American gymnasts to compete at the University of Minnesota contributed to the expansion of black representation in a sport that isn’t as diverse (it is getting better as time progresses!), and that is extremely meaningful for me. If I inspired one black gymnasts to keep training or expand their interest in the sport, my efforts were accomplished.
GS: How have you been influenced or inspired by other Black athletes, role models, or leaders in your life?
AK: I am most influenced and inspired by Black women as role models and leaders in my life. I’m extremely close with my mother, a woman who was a first generation college student and the “first” in many of her experiences through her professional life as well. I also surround myself by Black women friends who are at the highest levels of their professional careers because those are who I am influenced by and relate with most. Black women experience the impact of racism and sexism in such a unique way, that I’m most inspired and connect with their lived experiences. I totally “fan-girl” over Michelle Obama.
GS: If you could give young gymnasts of color any piece of advice, what would it be?
AK: Use your voice to advocate for, and create change and representation in places that may not have existed before you. We truly are our ancestors wildest dreams. Lean into every opportunity, share your lived experiences, learn from others and never take for granted your ability to influence Black history.
GS: Is there anything you would like to add?
AK: Honoring the contributions of Black Americans in US history is an honor to be apart of. In my opinion, for us to continue moving forward as a country, Black people need to continue being seen in spaces we haven’t been to transform and redefine the narrative of representation. To do that, it always starts with a “first” and I’m honored to be that for this great program. Thank you for choosing me as one alumni voice of (now many more) Black gymnasts who’ve represented the University of Minnesota women’s gymnastics team.
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