Gymnast leading despite injury

Student-athlete John Leonard balances graduate work with gymnastics.


While completing a roll-out during the team’s first event of the season, John Leonard felt something in his elbow. Then he heard a “pop” in his ear. It meant trouble, but he didn’t know it yet.

The fifth-year senior and co-captain then stood up and tried to do a cartwheel. But in doing so, Leonard dislocated his elbow – ending his career as an Owl.

“At the time, I was just thinking about finishing my routine,” Leonard said. “I wasn’t really thinking forward. It wasn’t until a couple of minutes afterwards that I realized that I might have really hurt myself and I might not be competing again.”

“It’s just ironic that in his first meet and first event [this year], boom,” coach Fred Turoff said. “He hit the ground, and to us from the side, it looked like a normal performance. But if you go back and look at the video, you can see when he hits, you see when he straightens his arm out it wobbles a bit. And that’s when you’re like, ‘Ooh.’”

Leonard’s gymnastics career began when he was a kid playing in his yard. When his mom noticed he could do flips on the trampoline, she signed him up for gymnastics, and eventually, Leonard was competing – sometimes even at the same Temple facility the team competes on now.

“Now 10 years later, I’m just doing harder stuff,” Leonard said.

Leonard has excelled at one event in particular – the floor exercise.

“He won the floor exercise when we hosted the [Eastern College Athletic Conference] championship meet [in 2012],” Turoff said. “So he’s a conference champion and he was the team leader last year. And because of graduating and still having eligibility, I talked to him last year and said, ‘You still can compete, just take graduate courses and you can finish your eligibility out.’ So I talked to Leonard’s parents and they said, ‘Yeah. That’s a good idea.’”

Although Leonard is now out for the remainder of this year, he is still expected to serve as one of the team’s leaders.

“He’s still a big part of the team,” senior co-captain Scott Haddaway said. “On road trips he’ll come and speak with me to the team, so he still has a motivational role. As for gymnastics, it’s a big loss, but we’re working through it.”

“I’ve been trying to make sure the guys stay on pace, keep doing their routines,” Leonard said. “I’m going to all the meets, making sure they stay motivated. Just making sure that I’m still there, I’m still behind the team.”

Surrounded by academic excellence, Turoff takes notice in his graduate co-captain.

“The fact that he graduated and came back to school shows that he’s a really good student,” Turoff said.

Along with strong academics, Leonard has also had much success in the gym. In 2011, he qualified for nationals in the vault. In 2012, he led Temple to an ECAC championship and No. 10 national ranking, the same year he won ECAC gold in the individual finals of the floor exercise. Last year, the Owls repeated as ECAC champions and finished the season ranked 12th in the nation. But the thing that impresses Leonard’s fellow co-captain the most is his attitude.

“It’s his ability to overcome everything,” Haddaway said. “He’s very calm and collected when it comes to stressful situations, like the [athletic] cuts. He doesn’t show the bad emotions. Instead, he stays strong for the team.”

 Steve Bohnel can be reached at or on Twitter @SteveSportsGuy1.

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