At first, fifth-year senior gymnast Jean Alban didn’t know how to tell people that she was a mother.
“It was tough, just expressing myself to people as a student-athlete with a baby,” Alban said. “Even telling people was tough. But I guess I just became proud of it, and it shaped me to who I am now. It’s tough, but essentially it’s just me being who I am.”
When Alban gave birth to Ariyana, her 3-year-old daughter, during her sophomore year, coach Aaron Murphy said he was astounded by Alban’s determination to make a return to the sport.
“It really blew my mind that she came up to me and said, ‘I can do this. I can have this child, and I want to make a comeback to the sport,’” Murphy said. “As I talked to her about it, and I kind of looked over the rest of the team, if it was going to happen to anyone, I’m glad it happened with her.”
“She’s the one who could step up to this challenge,” Murphy added. “I think it truly defines her as a person, with her work ethic, with her time management skills. The stuff that she’s done, with the years of being in school and caring for her child and bringing her child up, it’s absolutely incredible.”
Alban has always been a well-rounded person – Murphy said he saw it as early as her freshman year.
“When she started off here as a freshman, we as coaches were trying to get to know these girls a little bit,” Murphy said. “At that freshman year, we kind of figured them out at that point, and I always knew she was a hard worker, very diligent and getting whatever she needed to get done, she got done.”
Murphy’s biggest concern was about the physical obstacles that Alban would have to overcome.
“As a man, I didn’t know if it was physically possible to come back to the sport of gymnastics after having a child,” Murphy said. “I’ve never coached anyone through it. So that, to me, impressed me the most. To take the steps to drop the weight and get her body going again, and lo and behold, here she is stepping up as an all-around athlete again.”
The return to the sport wasn’t necessarily easy, however.
“It was actually really tough, but having the coach and the team behind me, they believed in me and I ended up competing that same year,” Alban said. “Coming back, I started off with one event, the beam, and then back to bars, and floor and vault were last. Being an all-arounder, it’s definitely been tough, but my team has made it easy for me because of their support, and it’s been great.”
Alban is currently serving as a co-captain on the team.
“She’s probably one of the most hardworking and dedicated people I’ve ever met in my entire life,” co-captain Heather Zaniewski said. “I look up to that, because she literally does everything.”
“She was in here all the time,” Zaniewski added. “She was in and out, and we did just whatever we could to help her out and get her through that second semester [spring 2011]. So we threw a nice little baby shower and everything.”
Balancing school, gymnastics and raising a child, Alban said she is thankful for all the help she’s gotten along the way.
“I have a great support system,” she said. “I have my boyfriend and his family here in Philadelphia. If it wasn’t for them, I probably wouldn’t be doing gymnastics, or going to school at Temple. They’re like my second family, so they really help out with watching my daughter. Me and my boyfriend switch on and off for schooling and scheduling. We do everything together. I guess we’re just really organized and just manage our time really well.”
Looking ahead, Alban is optimistic about her final season at Temple.
“My expectations are great,” Alban said. “I expect the best for our team. I believe in them and think we can have a more successful season than we’ve ever had. I really think the girls this year have stepped it up. I think once we get enough meets under our belt, we’re going to feel more comfortable competing out there and hitting our routines. As co-captain, I’m really proud of them. We’re going do great this year, I really feel it.”
Part of those expectations come from being a mother.
“It honestly keeps me motivated for every semester and every season that I go through,” Alban said. “It’s made me stronger as an athlete and as a person in general.”
Steve Bohnel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SteveSportsGuy1.