When Lauren Tatsuno ’09 was 5 years old, her aunt gave her a life-changing gift — gymnastics lessons at the local club. Sixteen years later, Tatsuno has yet to stop tumbling.

By age 7, she was invited to be on a competitive team and was spending three hours per day in the gym four days per week. As she grew older, this number only increased until she was spending 4 ½ hours, five days a week learning to jump, flip, vault and spring.

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In this past Saturday’s meet against Bridgeport, Tatsuno competed on beam, floor and vault. She earned a 9.4 on vault and a 9.675 on beams, and she placed first in the beam with a 9.7.

“Lauren was rock solid on beam,” Alina Liao ’09 said of her teammate’s performance last weekend.

This level of perfection, however, was a product of over 16 years of hard work both at Yale and at Tatsuno’s club.

Her club gym was strict in the way it expected its athletes to train, Tatsuno explained, but gymnasts were allowed to have fun and crack jokes. For instance, after a tough morning training, Tatsuno said she and her friends would remain at the gym for the rest of the day, happily constructing forts out of spare mats and hanging out in the foam pit.

“You get really close to your teammates,” Tatsuno said. “It’s a big part of your life, and you go through so much with them; you share your fears and goals.”

Contrary to popular belief, the long hours at the gym were actually rather liberating, she said. She countered any assumptions that so much gym time robbed her of her childhood.

Just as club gymnastics brought her team closer together, the experience also created a tighter bond between Tatsuno and her father. Each weekend Tatsuno had a meet, her father drove her to the various venues — usually in California, but often in other states across the West as well. Tatsuno said many of her best high school memories are from their travels together.

After six years of compulsory gymnastics — levels where all gymnasts compete with the same routine — Tatsuno began to develop specialized routines that she continues to hone today.

At Yale, Tatsuno has competed in three of the four events in all but the few first meets of her freshman year (in the past three years, she has not competed on bars). Although beam is her specialty, she prefers vault. Yet with a brand new bars routine that she has been crafting for more than a month, Tatsuno said her goal is to make her collegiate all-around debut sometime in the next few weeks.

“I like vault because I view it as the simplest event,” Tatsuno explained. “You are performing one vault — you don’t have to concentrate. Once you are running, you just keeping going. You can put all your energy into that moment.”

Tatsuno, who is a member of Pierson College, has found a home with the Yale team since her freshman year, and the girls on the team are some of her best friends.

“She’s definitely someone who is always pushing for everyone to keep up positive energy,” Liao said. “She comes in everyday with self-discipline. It helps to bring everyone else to practice at that level.”

When she was a freshman, Tatsuno earned a trip to the Regional Championships. Held at the University of Michigan, the tournament brought together the Northeast’s top gymnasts in a Big Ten setting. Tatsuno said she loved the trip, especially the enthusiastic, loud voices of the fans who came just for the excitement of the meet. She said she does not really care for whom the fans are cheering so long as they are vocal and spirited.

Tatsuno is known on her team for her even composition and competitive spirit. Sherry Yang ’10 described her teammate as “a helping hand” who grounds the team.

“She keeps the team spirit up. She’s very truly level-headed,” Yang said. “She doesn’t make gymnastics an emotion.”

Tatsuno said she also appreciates the fact that collegiate gymnastics leaves time for other activities. With 10 fewer hours of gym time a week than when she trained at her club in high school, she has discovered many other aspects of Yale life. She has served a one-year term on the Athletic Advisory Council, volunteers in a homelessness health and wellness program, and tutors 4th and 5th graders weekly as a “Bulldog Buddy.”

Besides her extensive community service record, Tatsuno, an economics and international studies major, is readying herself for her post-Yale and post-gymnastics career. She has already lined up a job in marketing and sales consulting and is searching for a new sport to play recreationally. As of now, she is planning on trying golf and tennis — two potential “life skills.”

“I’m big on just keeping perspective and not being too serious about life,” Tatsuno said.