Allan Bower: “Nothing Good Ever Comes Easy”

Allan Bower is well aware he’s become best-known as “that guy who keeps getting overlooked,” and may have even chuckled at a joke or two about changing his name to Allan “Alternate” Bower. But, despite being passed over again and again (and again), Bower remains undaunted.

“Nothing good ever comes easy,” Bower says with conviction. “It motivated me. Every time. To get back in the gym, to work even harder. To prove to them that I deserve to represent my country on that world stage.”

Bower has received plenty of such motivation. In 2017, he finished second in the all-around at U.S. National Championships but wasn’t picked as part of the individual World Championships squad. In 2018, he was third and named a traveling alternate to the five-man U.S. team, and in 2019, after finishing fourth in the selection camp’s two-day total, when the five names were read, it happened again—Allan Bower: Alternate.

“When they first announced the team [in 2019] I was like, ‘Man, this is my third time.’ It’s heartbreaking,” Bower admits. “You put in so much work, so much time, give up so much to do this sport, to chase your dream. And, yeah, at first all you can think is, ‘I can’t believe this is happening again.’ But that’s just the initial response. You give it some time, and then it’s just about working harder.

“I try not to hold on to things or have regrets,” Bower adds, remarkably sanguine. “I feel like everything happens for a reason. Sometimes things don’t work out in your favor. There’s no point in holding onto things. I really do try to keep positive. That’s how I like to live my life.”

Currently, that positive energy is focused on the Olympic Trials, a competition Bower says is likely his last chance to step onto that world stage. He’s got big plans after gymnastics, plans he’s already pushed back a year to try for the delayed Tokyo Games, with medical school on the horizon and his rescheduled wedding to fiancée Morgan Baulier set for December, almost two years to the day after Bower’s Hawaii proposal.

“I just want to go out, one more time, and give it everything I’ve got,” Bower says of his Trials plan. “My goal is to hit 12-for-12 and just be that clean, consistent athlete I’m known for, and hope that the Selection Committee sees that I can contribute, and that they can trust and rely on me when the pressure is on. High pressure situations are where I think I shine the most.”

Coach Mark Williams can attest to Bower’s ability to hit best when it counts. “Allan has been the most consistent gymnast on the National Team this entire Olympic cycle,” Bower’s coach since 2014 notes. “Anybody who can hit on pommel horse all the time is an asset. There’s no one I’d trust more to lead off Team USA on just about any event. He’s the type of guy that, the more pressure you put on him, the better he does, and that’s a rare and valuable quality in an athlete, especially when you’re talking about a team event.”

Inside Gymnastics caught up with Bower via phone after a recent training session in Norman, Oklahoma…

INSIDE: How are you feeling as we head into Olympic Trials?

BOWER: It’s hitting me that I really don’t have much time left in this sport. It kind of gives every day in the gym extra value. These last couple of weeks have been pretty difficult, but I’m just trying to find something to be grateful for every day. Nothing lasts forever, and with my time with gymnastics coming to an end, I’m trying to just enjoy every moment. 

My parents put me into gym when I was two years old. I was doing flips in my dad’s arms even younger that. My mom was a gymnast at Nebraska and my dad did trampoline and tumbling in high school, so they thought I might be good at it, and I loved it right from the start. It was all fun and games—playing in the foam pit, jumping on the trampoline—that’s how they get you hooked [laughs].

I’ve spent my entire life in the gym, and now it’s almost over. 

INSIDE: With your mom a Nebraska gymnast, and being born in Lincoln, how did you end up at Oklahoma?

BOWER: I know, right? 

When I took my recruiting trip, Oklahoma just felt like it had more to offer than anywhere else. Great coaches, great facility, and I just really connected with the people and the team. Both my parents went to Nebraska, but they were really supportive, and said I needed to do what felt right for me, and at the end of the day I’m obviously very happy that I chose OU, where I won three National Championships and made some amazing friends I’ll have for life.

INSIDE: Did it help that Oklahoma head coach Mark Williams was your mom’s high school English teacher in Omaha? 

BOWER: [laughs] How crazy is that? No, sorry Mark, I don’t really think it was a factor. I didn’t even really know if any of us made the connection until I came here. But it’s wild that it’s such a small world.

INSIDE: You’ve talked about Tokyo as an end point for your competitive career for a while now. When the Games were delayed due to the pandemic, what changed for you? How have you handled this extra year?

BOWER: Right away, my fiancée, Morgan, was like, ‘You’ve been training this for your entire life, a little global pandemic isn’t going to stop you.’ She was super supportive. She immediately pushed back our wedding date, and there wasn’t really a question of whether I’d continue training. She and I both wanted to make sure I gave everything I had to this dream.

Since it was out of my hands, I decided to take that extra year and look at it like an opportunity to get better in and out of the gym. To put myself in the position to do the best I could at Trials, but also to do what I wanted to do outside the gym, so took an extra year to study to retake my MCATs, and really focus on my training.

I’m well aware that there’s a clock on the gymnastics aspect of my life, so I made that my priority. One last year, giving it everything I’ve got.

INSIDE: How did you and Morgan meet?

BOWER: We met in the training room, actually. She was a track and field athlete and ran cross country at OU. She’s currently finishing her master’s degree in dietetics, just wrapping up her last medical rotation, and moving towards becoming a registered dietician.  

She completely understands what I’m going through because she did 5:00 AM practices and two-a-days, too. With her going to school to be a dietician, it’s really helped how my body feels, and she’s become an amazing cook. It’s been very nice to have her by my side throughout this whole journey, and I’ve benefited from being her guinea pig as she developed her Food Meets Fuel system.

INSIDE: What did your training look like during the pandemic?

BOWER: At first, with the OU gym shut down, Colin (Van Wicklen), Genki (Suzuki) and I were working out in Yul’s (Moldauer) garage. We had a pommel horse and just did what we could to keep in shape and keep each other motivated. Then, after a few months, as things started to reopen, Bounce Gymnastics in Yukon, Okla. let us train there. We were happy to have someplace to go, but that was a pretty tough time mentally. Driving an hour, each way. It takes a toll.

I did feel lucky to have more [financial] security than a lot of athletes. My old coach, Chris Sommer, has a company called Gym Fit  that uses gymnastics skill progressions to improve people’s general fitness, and he has sponsored me since I graduated from OU. That’s why I post  a lot of videos of exercises and progressions, putting my own spin on things from the courses, as well as my own ideas. I’m proud when people tell me they’ve learned something from watching my videos. I like the idea of helping people get healthy, and learn new skills, and it was something I could do at home during COVID, when everyone was looking for a way to stay fit.

INSIDE: Due to COVID restrictions, when the University of Oklahoma’s facilities re-opened in August, post-graduates weren’t allowed to train there. As the team’s volunteer assistant coach, you were in the gym, but Van Wicklen and Moldauer returned to their junior club gyms in Texas and Colorado, respectively, while Suzuki continued to train at Bounce. How difficult was that on all of you?

BOWER: Very. Our goal [in 2020] was for the four of us to go to Olympic Trials together, so it was hard on all of us.

When we were all working out together it was pretty easy to get, and stay, motivated. Every day in the gym you’ve got athletes at the same level, with the same goals, pushing you. So, when I was working out, pretty much alone, I would tell myself that everybody else was working harder than me. That Yul was getting through more sets, and Genki was being tougher than I was. That Colin was taking more turns. Just like we did when we were all in the gym together.

I tried to put myself in the mindset that I wasn’t good enough, that there was someone working harder than me. That’s the motivation I need to push myself in the gym. To not get complacent. And the OU guys on the team were all super supportive and helped me get through a lot of tough days.

INSIDE: How did you approach your role as a volunteer coach for Oklahoma?

BOWER: At first, I kind of took a step back and just watched some of the guys. I didn’t want to go in and just start telling people to do this, or not do that, until I understood how they trained and what works for them. Then, at first just every now and then, I’d give some corrections, or help a guy when I saw something, and started to get more comfortable in that role.  

It’s really fun to offer some help when you see an athlete doing something wrong, then watch them figure it out, based on that help. It’s a cool position for me to be in, and I really liked getting to engage with these guys and helping them in the gym in a way I hadn’t really done before.

I was definitely more nervous when I went to [their] meets than when I was competing. When you’re competing yourself, you’re in complete control of what’s happening, but when you’re on the outside watching, you don’t have that control. It made it a little bit more nerve-wracking and made me relate to my coaches more. It was a cool experience for me that I probably wouldn’t have had without COVID.

INSIDE: So, coaching and training for the Olympics wasn’t enough for you, you had to add studying for the MCAT, too?

BOWER: [laughing] I didn’t want to get bored. But seriously, they’ve reduced the testing time and there’s a record number of people applying to medical school, and due to some COVID limitations, it’s all about your test score right now. They just look at that number and move on. 

I got a decent MCAT score already, but one of the schools I’d most like to go to had something like 5,000 applications for 80 spots, so that’s how I wound up taking the MCAT three days before Olympic Trials.

INSIDE: You’re taking one of the hardest tests to prepare for mentally, three days before doing one of the hardest things you can do physically, competing at an Olympic Trials…You understand how intense that sounds, right?

BOWER: I do. But studying actually helps me get my mind off gymnastics. And gymnastics helps me get my mind off the MCAT. So, it’s like one thing helps clear my mind for the other. It is very taxing, but it gives me something significant to do besides sitting at home getting nervous. 

And I enjoy studying what I love, just like I enjoy doing gymnastics. I know it’s weird, but it’s sort of relaxing for me to study things like biochemistry.  

INSIDE: What made you want to pursue medicine as a career?

BOWER: My grandpa, on my mother’s side, was an ear, nose and throat specialist and I always really connected with him and admired all he stood for. I like helping people and making a difference in people’s lives. When I got to college, I just found that I really liked biology, biochemistry, chemistry, and anatomy. I thought it was all very interesting. 

I also like chasing after challenges. Even if it doesn’t come as easily to me, I still feel like I can work hard and do well. I always want to challenge myself, and I see being a doctor as a lifelong challenge.

INSIDE: You’re currently facing another challenge, with a recent shoulder injury, suffered just a few weeks before U.S. Championships, how is that feeling now?

BOWER: It’s been pretty painful, and I’ve been doing a lot of rehab and icing, but at the end of the day when I was going through NCAA competition, I saw a lot of my teammates push through pain for their team. Even if things aren’t easy, I want to do the same thing for Team USA. 

I want to be that guy they can count on to get it done, no matter what’s going on with me. Everybody at Trials is going through something—we’re all sore, tired, hurting in one way or another. I’m not going to let my shoulder be an excuse for why I can’t do it. It sucks that it happened, but there’s nothing I can do about it now. I’m not going to give up my dream due to a little bit of pain.

I told myself, ‘This is your shot. Your time. Don’t get in your head. Act like you want to be here because you don’t have much more time left.’

INSIDE: Is there any wiggle room in your retirement plan? After all, the 2021 World Championships are just a few months after the Games.

BOWER: I don’t know. I’ve put my fiancée through a lot. I’ve put my body through a lot. Never say never, but right now I’m dead set on the Olympics and how to get there, and part of that is not having a second option in my mind. I’m just completely focused on one thing. I don’t want that mindset of, ‘Well, if…’ going in. But, you know, we’ll see. 

I love gymnastics, and I’ve done it my entire life, but I think I’m ready to move on to a different chapter. I’m very thankful to Mark for giving me the opportunity because I don’t think I’d be here without everything I learned as an NCAA gymnast. I’m thankful to my family, and everyone who has believed in me. I’m just very, very thankful for everything, including that there’s only two more weeks until Olympic Trials [laughs].

INSIDE: You’ve earned a reputation for being consistent, under just about any circumstance. How do you pull that off?

BOWER: Like I’ve been telling the OU guys…No one wants to see you fail. Perform like you expect to succeed. And I try and hold myself to that same standard.

When I’m cold, and sore, and tired, and everything else a gymnast is; When I’ve been waiting what feels like forever, I just try and calm down by reminding myself how I always hit this set in practice. How it’s no different than every other time I’ve raised my hand to do this routine. That my body knows what to do.

To be honest, I like those pressure situations. They give me energy, get the adrenaline going. Everything is a little bit easier for me when I’m under stress.

INSIDE: Do you ever get tired of being known as Mr. Consistent?

BOWER: Sometimes I wish I could be that athlete that blows everybody away with one spectacular trick or routine, but hopefully my consistency can be what blows everybody away, knowing that they can rely on me. I’m proud that high pressure situations are where I shine the most.

INSIDE: After being so close, so many times, what would it mean to you to make this Olympic team?

BOWER: It would be unbelievable. It would just be—I don’t even have the words. I mean, after being alternate three times, it would just mean the absolute world to me. It would justify all this hard work, and all these years of sacrifice. My sacrifices, my family’s sacrifices, my fiancée’s. Everything I’ve done, everything everyone has done to help me. It would just be a great way to end my entire career. 

I’ve wanted to compete at the Olympic Games since I knew they existed. That’s always been my dream. If I’m able to go out there and compete for the U.S. in the sport that I love—Nothing would mean more.

INSIDE: And if it happens again, if you’re named an alternate for the Tokyo team?

BOWER: I mean, it’s never fun being the alternate, but it’s a necessary position. Obviously, I want to be on the competing team, but if anything does happen, I know I’m 100% ready to go and represent my country to be the best of my ability. It’s a hard position to be in, but at the end of the day my experiences have motivated me to get back in the gym and start working harder. Hopefully hard enough that I can go out and prove I deserve to compete on the team. 

Photos by Lloyd Smith for Inside Gymnastics, University of Oklahoma Athletics and Allan Bower

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