DePaul's Hollembeak Being Inducted into Hall of Legends
LAS VEGAS - Memories have come flooding back to Jill Hollembeak as she prepares to be inducted Thursday as a "World Acrobatic Legend" at the World Acrobatic Society's annual convention.
DePaul's Assistant Director for Athletic Academic Advising, Hollembeak made her first impact in the gymnastics world by capturing the 1982 World Tumbling Championship in the Senior Women's Division at the age of 14 in Bozeman, Mont.
But even more than the subsequent world titles she would win in 1984 in Osaka, Japan and 1986 in Paris along with 11 national titles in power tumbling and platform tumbling, Hollembeak calls to mind experiences while traveling around the world in competition.
"When I was 13, I was on the USA team that was invited to South Africa for a friendly competition," Hollembeak said. "It was during the time of apartheid and all the racial strife going on there.
"Seeing it with my own eyes---all the injustices---it stunned me. Really.
"The South African government protected us, but it was just so blatant. We were there for a month and went on traveling tours, performing for the white and black schools. There were separate restaurants for blacks and whites, and you could see all the advantages the white people had.
"This is how it must have been during the Civil Rights era."
Hollembeak also remembers a competition in Russia.
"This was during the Cold War era," Hollembeak said. "There were KGB agents everywhere. But that didn't take away from the beautiful people and beautiful country over there."
"Even at that young age when I was in South Africa and Russia, I realized that people are people no matter where you go, and that they feel the same things that we do."
"My experiences in tumbling completely shaped me as a person. The people I've met along the way, I feel so blessed. All the support from my family, close friends and peers has been unbelievable."
Hollembeak grew up in a blue-collar, working-class family in Rockford, and the sacrifices her parents made enabled her to not only excel in tumbling and gymnastics, but she became the first in her family to attend college when she competed on the gymnastics team at Illinois State.
Hollembeak was a two-time Academic All-American and an NCAA qualifier in gymnastics at ISU.
She is still best friends with Tim Schloffer, whom she met at the age of 10 while competing in tumbling. Schloffer was a silver medalist at the 1982 World Championships.
Another prominent figure being inducted into the Hall of Legends on Thursday is Valeri Liukin, who coached his daughter Nastia Liukin to the women's all-around title at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Valeri Liukin was a gold medalist on the Soviet Union gymnastics team at the 1988 Summer Olympics.
"It's quite an honor," Hollembeak said. "I feel humbled to be represented in the Hall of Legends. Back when I was competing, I would have never expected anything like this."