Sender's Send Off
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As the U.S. Championships kicked of in Dallas yesterday, Inside Gymnastics sat down with 2008 Olympic alternate David Durante and defending National Champ David Sender for a lighthearted chat that turned suddenly serious when Sender, whom coaches have said looks like a favorite to repeat, revealed his intentions to stop competing, effective Friday, no matter what happens at USAs.
That’s right. Sender has already packed up his apartment and loaded up his car—“the trunk is stuffed,” he laughs—and, almost as soon as he flies home to California, will head out to Illinois, and his new life as a vet student at the University of Illinois.
“Packing up the dog, the fish and possibly the hamster and I’m on my way,” Sender said. “No regrets. None.”
Durante too is moving on. Coaching this year at Stanford—he also acted as Sender’s personal coach—while living in an apartment the size of a closet (“It was in a great location though,” Sender defends), Durante is moving on to his family’s apartment in Rome, where he plans to travel Europe—“maybe visit Fabian (Hambuechen), improve my Italian,” he says of his nebulous plans—for at least a year, before returning to the States.
“It will be either Northern California or New Jersey,” Durante says of his proposed home base once he gets backs. “I have to be near the beach.”
This gymnastics odd couple, the stylish, laidback Durante, who oozes elegance, and the powerful, shy and sometimes stubborn—“very stubborn,” Durante counters quickly—Sender, sat down with Inside for an exclusive chat about what will be, for both of them, their last USAs, at least for a while.
INSIDE: What’s it been like working together this season? Gymnastics-wise, you two couldn’t be much more different.
DURANTE: Not just gymnastics (laughs).
SENDER: (Also laughing) Definitely not. With any coach and gymnast interaction you’re going to have areas in which you’re the same, and areas—many, many areas—in which you’re different. That can either make you get along really well, or make you butt heads all the time.
Dave and I have different styles of doing things some times, but it works. Thom (Glielmi) and I had differences that made us, occasionally, butt heads.
SENDER: (Laughing) Every once in a while. It doesn’t happen that much with Dave. Mostly because he just tells me what to do and I have to do it.
DURANTE: It’s easier on the days that he listens.
INSIDE: And how many days would that be?
SENDER: (Falls backward laughing)
DURANTE: (Also laughing) Rarely! Very rarely.
SENDER: Like one a year …
DURANTE: … And on that day it’s awesome! Those are the days—day, excuse me—you remember.
SENDER: No, it’s been great working with Dave, honestly. I think it’s been a very great learning experience for both of us. We’ve both probably got as much out of the other one.
DURANTE: Thom hired me on with the idea that I would be coaching David. I jumped at the opportunity because it gave me the chance to stay involved with USA Gymnastics a little bit more and kind of gave me the opportunity to transition from being an athlete a little bit more, moving on to the next chapter of my life.
INSIDE: How was that transition?
DURANTE: I mean, it was awkward, and it is hard. But I think one of the things that helped with the transition is that I had knee surgery and that kept me off the equipment. If I’d been healthy coming back to Stanford it might have been a little bit harder.
The transition has been better than I expected. I never really saw myself as a coach. I never really thought I had the patience to be a coach.
SENDER: (Laughing) He doesn’t. But I’m not exactly the easiest one to work with.
DURANTE: No, you’re absolutely not.
I have a newfound respect for my coaches, seeing where they come from day in and day out, dealing with pains in the butts like us.
INSIDE: What do you think you’ve brought to Sender’s gymnastics this year?
DURNATE: One thing I’ve tried to get him to do is focus on the way he works he out. He is probably the slowest person I have ever worked on. I think he just loves being in the gym and he would rather spend five or six hours taking his turns.
I’d rather just get his stuff done and get out and he just doesn’t work that way. I’m constantly yelling at him, ‘Let’s go Dave. LET’S GO DAVE!’
Sometimes I can’t find him. We’re always joking that he’s hiding in the pit.
SENDER: (Laughing) For the record, I’ve never done that.
DURANTE: The other thing we’re working on is trying to bring his form up to a level that is on par with the difficulty of his skills. And that’s definitely a challenge that’s easy to change when you’ve been doing gymnastics one way your entire life.
SENDER: (Laughing) And that’s not going well.
… Dave is very particular about presentation and form and how everything looks all the time. While I can be a bit of a perfectionist about other things, some of that detail stuff, I can let is slip by a little bit. Having him there to make sure I’m always doing that has been great. I think it’s been really beneficial.
I completely agree that he is constantly on my back, trying to get me to be really efficient and get stuff done and get out of there. I was always in the gym a while, even back in club I remember being there a long time.
DURANTE: He claims he’s working out. I think he just likes being in the gym.
SENDER: (Laughing) That’s not true. I take my time in between turns because I do a lot of mental stuff when I’m in the gym.
DURANTE: Yeah, like talking to the other guys.
SENDER: (Laughing) Hey, I can still think while I’m talking.
INSIDE: How did you get past the entire 2008 selection process situation? Did Durante help you with that?
SENDER: I took my time. I needed to take [a step back]. By the time Dave came, I was through most of it … Wait, that’s not true. I had some rough moments, but that was all in my head, mostly.
It was me kind of getting used to not having any responsibility with my gymnastics—no team I was responsible to. It was different. On the bad days, I didn’t have to be pushing myself through it.
INSIDE: So why did you?
SENDER: That’s a good question! I think the bottom line is that I still love the sport and I still really enjoy training. It just took a little while to get used to the new mental approach and the understanding that I am just doing it for myself now.
[Dave] actually did a pretty good job of knowing when to step back, and when to push me through.
INSIDE: And Durante, you know something about Olympic setbacks … You were the last alternate in Beijing.
DURANTE: There was definitely mutual understanding. Not only that we’ve known each other for a long time, but having gone through tough situations leading up to the Olympics we both kind of had an understanding. Some of it was unspoken.
We both have gone through things that most people would never really understand. A tough situation brought us closer together and made us both willing to understand each other and work with each other more closely and I think it eased the coaching-athlete transition between us.
Just being back in the gym with guys who genuinely loved the sport and just wanted to help the team, really helped me, personally, the most. Just being around the Stanford guys and being able to be a part of what they were doing this past year, was the best thing for me.
Which was surprising for me because, initially, I thought I wanted to step back from the sport. Clear my head. But it was just too big a part of my life to have done that. I’m pretty sure I’ll stay involved as much as I can—maybe not on the coaching level anymore—but it was nice to be able to experience that.
INSIDE: Speaking of everything that happened last year. Did you guys ever think, after the Games in ’08, that you’d be here at this meet, together?
DURANTE: Not in a million years.
SENDER: At this time last year I was definitely not thinking about it.
DURANTE: What’s today’s date? August 11? Tomorrow was team finals, so today was my last day of working out.
SENDER: I watched on TV. We actually had a few of my teammates came over to my place.
It wasn’t easy to watch it on TV. I was very proud of how they did. Considering the circumstances, it was great, to still be able to pull out a medal was exciting. But it’s impossible to watch and not wish I was there, and contributing to that team that I really thought I could have been a part of.
DURANTE: Everyone watched me watch. I guess I would say it was the best and hardest trip of my life. It’s something that I think about every day. I can’t believe how fast this year has gone by. It feels like it was just a couple weeks ago. It made that big an impression on me.
It was such a huge part of my life that I will always look back fondly on the experience, no matter how it turned out. It definitely was difficult. It was something I wasn’t expecting to go through. It was very draining emotionally, but looking back I feel like I contributed in every way I possibly could and I had a fantastic time at the Olympic Games. It was something I will never forget for the rest of my life.
INSIDE: Predictions on how you’ll do here?
SENDER: (Quietly) We’re going to win.
DURANTE: Why did you say that whispering? (Imitates Sender with stage whisper) ‘I am going to win.’ [They’re] recording this. [They] can still hear you. Does it help to whisper? Is it a secret?
SENDER: I’m feeling good about all my routines and I’m excited about a couple of them. Rings and vault especially.
DURANTE: First two events, basically. It should be interesting.
SENDER: (Laughing) Yeah, if those two events go well we may just walk off the floor, ‘I’m out, see you later.’
I think I definitely have a pretty good chance to win rings, and vault too. That would be a lot of fun. [Second vault] handspring double full. I’ve been doing that a while now.
INSIDE: You could make the World team based just on vault alone with a 7.0 Yurchenko pike double back and 6.6 second vault. Have you thought of that?
SENDER: I’m actually going to be done. I’m not even looking at Worlds. I’m done after this meet. Going to vet school.
INSIDE: Really? When did you make this decision? We spoke with you as recently as lat week.
SENDER: I made this decision not too long ago, but I’ve been thinking about it for a while.
DURANTE: We’ve discussed this quite a bit.
SENDER: We’ve had more than a few long talks about this.
Most of the people I talked to thought I should keep going. There were very few that thought I should say goodbye and go to school.
(Big sigh) It came down to a lot of stuff. It wasn’t an easy decision to make. I guess I wasn’t willing to risk losing the opportunity to do what I want to do for the rest of my life for another couple years of gymnastics.
Last week, I wasn’t really ready to say anything definitive but being here …
School starts in two weeks. When I get back to California on Saturday I’m leaving Saturday night to start driving back to Illinois. Orientation starts next week. I’m actually going to be a day late because of this.
It’s probably the toughest decision I ever made. And I spent endless hours laying in bed at night going back and forth. Honestly you could catch me on any given day and I’d be one way or another. They’re two such huge parts of my life, that it’s almost impossible to pick just one.
The plan now is that I’m going to school. I’m not going to Worlds this year, even if they pick me. I’m not even planning on taking a National Team spot because I’m not planning on training this year.
I’ll kind of see how it goes when I’m at school. If I had time to actually train, maybe. … I’ve talked to [University of Illinois] coach Justin (Spring). He said I can come in anytime.
INSIDE: And you leave with no regrets?
SENDER: The way I’ve always made decisions, I don’t live with regret. As long as you take the time to really think about it. But, just because I make the decision without regret doesn’t mean it was easy, or that I’m not going to look back on it and miss a lot of things.
I’m going to miss a lot. It’s not going to be an easy process. It’s so different, going to school, sitting all day long. I’m terrified of getting out of shape and I’m going to miss just being in the gym, training skills. There is nothing else in life that you can really challenge yourself like you do in gymnastics. There’s no comparison, really. There’s nothing else you’re going to get super-excited for, where you’re jumping up screaming.
It’s a huge part of my life that is going to be gone now, for the most part.
Like I said, I’m excited about it. It’s new and different and what I want to be doing for the rest of my life. But it wasn’t without some doubts or even …
INSIDE: So, Friday is goodbye to gymnastics for both of you, at least for now?
DURANTE: Yep. I got nominated for the AAC (Athlete Advisory Council) position for gymnastics, and I accepted it. That’s a four-year position, so I’ll be the representative on the USOC for rhythmic, artistic and trampoline gymnastics. We worked it out where Chellsie (Memmel) is the alternate, if I can’t make any meetings.
I went to the first meeting in Denver a couple months ago and I have a meeting in Chicago, in September, right before I leave for Rome. I’ll be living in Rome at least a year, using that as a home base and traveling quite a bit. After a year I’ll reevaluate and see if I want to make the trip back. But, as of right now, I think I’ll be coming back to the U.S.
SENDER: [Gymnastics] was do-able for me this year because I’m a young, single guy with just a dog to take care of. And a fish, the [10-year-old] fish is still good.
INSIDE: You’re really not pulling people’s leg with the, no pun intended, fish story? (Sender has become well known for talking about his 10-year-old goldfish, originally acquired for, he says, a junior high school science fair, in interviews.)
SENDER: No, I swear! Ask Dave, he’s seen it.
DURANTE: It’s true. He’s real.
SENDER: Everyone has seen the fish. Everyone knows the fish. He’s got some, ‘interesting’ markings, there’s no way I could replace him. I’ve got an eight-quart Tupperware container to take him back to Illinois.
The fish, the dog, possibly the hamster, making the trip across the country. Which will be a wonderful time I’m sure.
I’ve already got most of my stuff packed. I’m ready to go.
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