Champion Gymnast Pintchouk Going From Stuart to Stanford
By Bill Alden
With her mother being a former top gymnast in Belarus, it was natural that Alex Pintchouk would pursue the sport.
Encouraged by mother, Valentina, now a gymnastics coach, Pintchouk took up the sport in 1998 at age 11.
While the younger Pintchouk quickly rose through the ranks, she found herself at a crossroads as she entered her freshman year at Stuart Country Day School. "I was getting hit with a lot of homework and the competition was getting harder," recalls Pintchouk, who went from level five to level nine in her first two years of gymnastics. (In gymnastics, one must go through levels 1-10 before reaching elite status.)
"I was thinking about quitting gymnastics. My mother told me to stick it out. She said the sport would make me happy and help me with getting into college."
Mother definitely knew best as Pintchouk has continued to excel in competition, winning the all-around title in the Level 10 classification at the N. J. State championships last March, setting a meet record in the balance beam (9.675) in the process.
On the college front, Pintchouk, now a senior at Stuart, won't have to wait until next spring to know where she is headed since she recently accepted a gymnastics scholarship at Stanford University.
Pintchouk is certainly glad she followed her mother's advice. "My mom is my driving force," said Pintchouk. "She understands the way I work and the way I think. Having mom as a coach is great because I really trust her. When I'm doing a new move and I'm petrified, she tells me I can do it and that really helps."
There is no fear for Pintchouk as she looks ahead to going to Stanford next fall. "Stanford was my first choice from the start," maintained Pintchouk. "It's a great school with a beautiful campus. The gymnastics team is really improving, it's challenging in the NCAAs."
It didn't take long for Pintchouk to make up her mind about how to respond to the scholarship offer. "I visited there last September," recalled Pintchouk. "They had told me before I came that they probably would have an offer for me. I went to some classes and met some team members. After that I spoke to the coach and she told me the offer was still on the table. I accepted immediately, I was shaking, I couldn't believe it. I was so excited and thrilled that the coach started crying."
As Pintchouk finishes up her senior year at Stuart, she is working hard on honing her gymnastic skills. "I train about 20-25 hours a week," explained Pintchouk, who is a member of the Will-Moor School of Gymnastics based in Mt. Laurel.
"During the week, I train four hours a day, usually four to eight. On Saturdays, I train for about five hours. I do my homework in any free time I have. I have to study late into the night to keep up."
Befitting an all-around champion, Pintchouk gets something special out of each of her disciplines.
"The vault and floor exercises are probably my favorites," maintained Pintchouk. "I find the uneven bars to be the hardest but I love to do that because of the challenge. The beam really takes skill, it's probably more nerve-wracking for me to watch it than to do it."
While Stuart doesn't have a gymnastics team, Pintchouk says the school has played an integral role in her success.
"Stuart has done a lot for me," she added. "The girls keep up on how I'm doing and all of my friends have been there for me. The teachers have been understanding and work with me when my schedule is tight."
Pintchouk is now looking to be there for Stanford. "I really want to help the team and come in and contribute," asserted Pintchouk, who said she is looking to study natural sciences and business at college. "Some of my teammates will be training for the Olympics and I want to be at the level of the other girls."