Jan. 12, 2012
Originally published in the winter issue of the Cal Sports Quarterly
Donothan Bailey got his start in gymnastics like many of his compatriots - as a rambunctious youngster whose mother thankfully saw an outlet for youthful energy in sports. Little did she know that some 13 years later, her son would be a member of the U.S. Senior National team and traveling the world to compete in gymnastics.
While it was at first just an extracurricular activity for the Mission Viejo, Calif., native, it's the pure and childish love that keeps Bailey enthralled with gymnastics.
"I love this sport," Bailey said of why he sticks with it. "I couldn't see myself not doing it. I have goals that I feel I need to accomplish, and I could never quit until I knew I tried my hardest to accomplish those goals."
A few of Bailey's current aspirations include making a push for the Olympics and winning a national championship with the Golden Bears - lofty yet attainable goals for the Cal junior. Luckily for Bailey, his drive to succeed will bring him far.
"Donothan is a very determined and passionate gymnast," Cal coach Tim McNeill said. "He really gets it. That's why he's gone from flying under the radar to becoming a member of the U.S. Senior National team. He knows what it takes to succeed, and that's what he goes out and does."
If McNeill's praise is not evidence enough, Bailey could not be more poised to hit those marks thanks to the valuable domestic and international experience he gained over the summer.
In August, on the biggest national stage for gymnastics, Bailey represented the Blue and Gold while vying for a chance to sport the Red, White and Blue with USA Gymnastics at the Visa Championships. Both he and current Cal teammate Glen Ishino were named to the U.S. National team thanks to their strong showings at the meet in St. Paul, Minn. And that was not even a top-notch outing for the all-arounder.
"The Visa Championships were a bit of a struggle," Bailey said. "I was injured, so training before the competition was really difficult and minimal. I was able to make it through the competition with a great result though."
The national stage is one on which Bailey should feel quite comfortable. Before he even came to Berkeley, Bailey was a three-time national champion on pommel horse as a member of the U.S. Junior National team. He was even runner-up in the all-around to Ishino at the 2007 Junior Championships.
With his successful junior career complete, Bailey had many a schools from which to choose. While it was first the name that drew Bailey to Cal, a trip to the campus that values everything from the Free Speech Movement to national titles made him realize that Berkeley was a perfect 10.
"I chose Cal because of the prestige of the school and I felt that I meshed really well with the team," Bailey said. "After my recruiting trip here, Berkeley just felt right."
With two years at Cal under his belt, Bailey further rounded out his gymnastics résumé by donning the U.S. uniform for a trip to Mexico in October to compete at the Pan American Games. The Americans finished third in the team competition. Though he fell short of an individual event medal, Bailey is quick to note that it was an educational visit in more than one way.
"Pan Ams was such an amazing experience," Bailey said. "The competition didn't go as we had wanted, but it was a great learning experience. The competition was pretty fierce, but it was an eye opener as to what I need to work on and do to be successful internationally. Outside of the competition, I met a lot of people from other countries, and I became really good friends with the group of Americans I went with. I'm grateful for the opportunity and am excited for the opportunities in the future."
While coming home without a gold medal and coming up just short of his own expectations could deter a lesser gymnast, that's not Bailey's modus operandi.
"Going to Pan Ams really helped Don zone in on exactly where he needs to improve," McNeill said. "He came back to Berkeley and immediately returned to the fundamentals. It might not be as exciting as perfecting the high-flying skills, but fundamentals are essential. By the time that the next competition rolls around, I know he'll be even better than before."
Before Bailey jets off on another sojourn, he has turned his attention to training with the Golden Bears at their gym atop campus. At last year's NCAA Championships, Bailey finished 10th in the all-around and earned All-American status on pommel horse, tying Ishino for sixth. As a team, Cal finished fourth - a mark that Bailey is confident his Bears can best.
"I really want our team to have a great NCAA meet," Bailey said. "I believe we have a lot of potential and are going to surprise a lot of people."
Thankfully for his teammates, Bailey is a real source of inspiration in the gym. In the two years that McNeill has coached Bailey, McNeill has seen what he termed a "monumental improvement" in Bailey's gymnastics and leadership qualities.
"He's really seen as the team leader," McNeill said. "The rest of the team looks up to him, and he's a really positive influence on the team."
Voted co-captain by his teammates, Bailey's dual-pronged demeanor in the gym makes him an integral part of the Golden Bear training.
"He leads by example because he's doing some of the most difficult gymnastics in the world without any hesitation," McNeill said. "But he's also very vocal - he's not afraid to tell someone if he thinks they're slacking off, but he's also very encouraging. If myself or (assistant coach) Colin Christ weren't there, I have no doubt that the team would get by with Don there."
Luckily for the Bears, Bailey still has two years of eligibility left. Though he's yet to declare a major, Bailey is thinking of focusing on integrative biology with hopes of medical school after his gymnastics days are through. Well before he starts applying for medical school, Bailey has his sights set on the 2016 Olympics.
But until then, there's one thing on his mind - an NCAA national championship. The road to Norman, Okla., where NCAAs will occur come April, begins in early January for the Bears.