When Athleticism Meets Optimism: Stephanie Giameo

Anyone who has watched a gymnastics competition before has seen it: the gymnast approaches the floor bearing a sober look of determination. Eyes diverted from the crowd, the music begins, usually a mix of classical crescendos and violins. With careful execution, an assortment of layouts, aerials, and flips ensues, often with some ballet-inspired moves intertwined. All the while, she maintains the rightful, no-nonsense gaze of someone who has spent the better part of her life training for this event.

But when Roselle Park resident Stephanie Giameo, now a senior on the Maryland Terrapins women’s gymnastics team approaches the mat, something different happens. As she waits for the music to start, Stephanie glances to her team and coach for motivation. She appears relaxed and excited as she waves to the crowd. Suddenly, the arena is filled with upbeat dance music and Stephanie explodes in an energetic mix of gymnastics, hip-hop, and ballet.

She sprints into a clean triple back flip and finishes it by shaking her hips to Avicii. She rolls her shoulders to the tune as she lines up for a double front layout, lands it, and claps her hands to the latest Ellie Goulding track on the recovery. She shimmies and pumps her arms to Arianna Grande, extends into a ballerina-esque pose and nails a front twist – double Arabian flip – seemingly in one swift movement.

When the routine ends and Stephanie strikes a final pose and bows to the judges, she breaks out her signature finale: a bright-eyed smile directed toward her family in the stands, and very often, a laugh.

According to friends, Stephanie’s lighthearted performance on the gymnastics mat is indicative of her bubbly personality overall. “We call her ‘Giggles’ sometimes,” recounted fellow senior teammate Katy Dodds. “Because, I promise you, she can giggle for hours on end.”

A toddler-aged Stephanie watched through the windows of the local gymnastics facility at her older sister’s lessons. Like any younger sibling who craves mimic the older one, Stephanie was soon enrolled at Sunburst Gymnastics in Union, New Jersey at the age of three.

“I always wanted to do what my sister did,” said Stephanie, “But from then on, I fell in love with it and I just stuck with it.”

As Stephanie advanced through the levels of club gymnastics, she learned how to reach a delicate balance between gymnastics, schoolwork, and her personal life. In sixth grade, she moved to the Eastern National Academy of Gymnastics (ENA), a more competitive and advanced facility, albeit much further from home. After eight hours of school came a half-hour commute during rush hour, followed by five hours at practice, the commute home, and finally dinner, homework, and preparations for the next day.

While at ENA, Stephanie placed ninth in the all-around and sixth on beam in the level 10 national competition, the highest level of club gymnastics. She was named the 2011 vault champion for the state of New Jersey and finished second in the statewide all-around.

When it came time for Stephanie to look at colleges, she knew gymnastics would be the route through which she would conquer her higher education.

“I wasn’t ready to stop doing gymnastics,” she recalled, “When you’re younger, a lot of gymnasts dream about going to the Olympics, and I think that college is the next best thing.”

Four years later, Stephanie has become a graduating senior, juggling athletics and college life, while studying accounting at the University of Maryland, College Park. As a college athlete, Stephanie’s average day begins at 8 a.m. when she wakes up, packs her lunch and leotard, and heads to the athletics department to get treatment on her shoulder. After about an hour of treatment, she visits the athlete study hall before her two classes, and team practice starts at 2 p.m. everyday. Three times a week, practice is extended by an hour for weightlifting, followed by ice baths. Around 7 p.m. she heads home, cooks dinner, finishes homework, and repeats this routine the next day.

Stephanie performs beam, her best event, in a February 2015 meet against George Washington, Towson, and William & Mary. (Photo credit: Maryland Athletics)

As her final season with the Terrapins winds down, she leaves behind a legacy of sportsmanship and friendship that fellow teammate Haley Jones described as “the epitome of a great teammate and leader”.

As a freshman, she earned the team’s Rookie of the Year and Dynamite Beam awards and was named to the East Atlantic Gymnastics League (EAGL) All-Academic team. As a sophomore, she was ranked eighth in the nation on beam, until a career-best performance against Pittsburgh, Cornell, and Temple in Pittsburgh resulted in a 9.95 out of 10 on Jan. 19, 2013. That week, Giameo was ranked first in the nation on beam.

As a junior, Stephanie earned a career-high score on bars, placed ninth in the NCAA all-around competition, fifth in the NCAA on beam, and earned First Team All-EAGL in beam, vault, and the all-around. All the while, she served as team captain, earned All-EAGL academic honors, and received her team’s Founders’ Award for showing outstanding athletics, sportsmanship, scholarship, and character.

Giameo performs her floor routine at the Big 5 Meet in Nebraska on March 14, 2015. (Credit: Giameo Family)

With her senior year on the horizon, Stephanie was prepared to dominate in her final gymnastics season, set to begin in the spring of 2015. During training in November 2014, she was learning a new skill on the uneven bars when her right arm hit the bar at an awkward angle. She tried the skill again, only to feel an unfamiliar, intense pain down her arm. An MRI later revealed a torn posterior labrum, otherwise known as the shoulder cartilage, an injury more commonly found in football players than gymnasts.

Despite her injury, Stephanie competed in all 13 meets of her final season and earned All-Big Ten academic honors. Following her final meet against Auburn in April, she will undergo labrum surgery at the end of the month.

“She pushed through the pain all season and competed in every meet,” explained Katy, “She’s a warrior.”

In spite of her athletic and academic success, Stephanie’s most notable legacy upon graduating is arguably her relationships. Right away, Stephanie’s lively personality complimented the strong team orient of college athletics, and videos of her performances, both on the mat and on the sidelines, prove as much.

When Katy lined up for vault in a February 2013 meet against Bridgeport, Stephanie stood on the very edge of the mat, chanting motivational mantras to her teammate as she prepared. When Katy nailed her landing just seconds later, Stephanie ran to the other end, bouncing with excitement for one of her closest friends.

“We’re so close with each other,” said Stephanie, smiling, “You develop that family type of feeling. We always say we have 19 sisters.”

Perhaps Stephanie’s contagious personality was best portrayed on a summer evening in 2014, when she was living with teammate Haley Jones. When Haley came home from class and practice feeling overwhelmed, Stephanie brought her out for ice cream and the pair talked for the remainder of the evening while they relaxed on their rooftop in the balmy summer breeze. Afterward, Stephanie blasted upbeat music throughout their apartment and, soon enough, two hours of dancing and laughing had passed by.

“At that moment, I felt like I had never had a friend as true as Stephanie before,” remembers Haley.

Today, whenever a teammate is in need of a friend, Stephanie’s cure mirrors her actions on the gymnastics mat: she blasts music, dances, smiles, and laughs.

Christina Germano is originally from Fair Lawn, New Jersey and is currently a senior journalism student at the University of Maryland, College Park.