Highland Park senior Emily Ablin is one of the few gymnasts on coach Jose Salazar’s team who has valuable club experience.
That background makes Ablin not only a valued commodity in meets, but an asset in helping develop the rest of the Giants. Ablin, who competes for Flips Gymnastics in Lake Forest, is Highland Park’s top all-arounder. It’s a role that she wasn’t even sure she wanted when she chose not to join the team her freshman year.
After a debate with fellow club members about the merits of joining the high school team — thus leaving the club team for several months — Ablin opted to go for it her sophomore year.
“It’s a different experience than club, but it’s been fun,” she said. “A lot of us knew we might regret it if we didn’t try.”
Salazar said Ablin immediately became the team’s top performer, a title that could have been intimidating for the then-sophomore. But after some initial worries, Ablin said she was able to adjust to a different level of competition and scoring.
“I was the youngest person on varsity, and I had skipped a grade so I was even younger than that,” she said. “I was intimidated [by my teammates] initially, but they were really accepting and encouraging. I’d be the only one of us on the podium, but they really supported me.”
That has made Ablin eager to support her teammates, especially with this year’s team bringing out several students with almost no background in gymnastics.
“I think it’s cool that they want to try it,” Ablin said. “I always think what it means to them to be out there. All the work they put in and how they try so hard, you almost feel obligated to help because they work so hard and you just want them to succeed.”
Salazar welcomes Ablin as a mentor because he has to oversee a group of close to 30 gymnasts at Highland Park.
“I think it’s great that I can know Emily‘s in the gym and that if she sees someone doing something wrong, she‘ll give them advice,” he said. “The girls respond differently when it’s her giving them instruction rather than one of us coaches saying the same thing over and over again. It’s important to have someone like her in the gym.”
Ablin doesn’t concern herself with thinking about state qualification, something she said “wasn’t in [her] reach.”
Her role as teacher and role model may end up leaving an even bigger legacy for the Giants.
“There’s no doubt in my mind she’ll continue progressing as a gymnast over the season because she trains year round,” Salazar said. “But what I’ve enjoyed watching is seeing her develop as a leader. I don’t know how comfortable she was with that role [as a sophomore], but she embraces it now. She works really hard and is a role model and I think she’s enjoying that a lot more. It’s all come together for her this season.”