As University of Illinois students, we strive to obtain the title of being well-rounded. Hannah Welker truly deserves this title. She balances sports, school, and even earned a summer internship; all while maintaining a social life. Hannah is a member of the U of I gymnastics team that just qualified for the NCAA Championships for the second time in this school’s history, and she landed a summer internship in New York with CBS News!
HC: Was the Illinois gymnastics team a big reason in choosing to come to U of I?
Yes. Gymnastics was really what led me to the University of Illinois. I was recruited here to do gymnastics at the beginning of my senior year of high school. I am from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, so Illinois was not really a common school of choice for the people in my area, but with the amazing team and coaches here at Illinois, they really made me feel like U of I was the place to be! I haven't regretted my decision for one second. But along with gymnastics, I knew that Illinois would also offer me a great education. And to be honest, that's really what matters most. Because after college, gymnastics will be over and we all have to get jobs!
HC: What events do you compete with on the U of I gymnastics team?
Well, this year has been a little rough for me in the gym. I suffered a concussion at the beginning of our season, and was out of training for a little over a month. When you take a month off of gymnastics, it really takes a long time to get back your timing on each event. Skills don't just come back perfectly overnight; it takes some time, so I had to learn to be patient. I like to think that things like this happen for a reason, and it will just make me stronger. So while I have not competed this year, I do train 3 out of the 4 events at practice... floor, uneven bars, and balance beam. I would have to say that uneven bars are definitely my favorite event, and I think it's one of my best. Luckily I am back to training, so hopefully next year I will be competing again!
HC: How does it feel to qualify for the NCAA Championships for the 2nd time in school history?
Qualifying for the NCAA this year is an amazing accomplishment for our team! We have worked so hard all year long to better ourselves week in and week out; in the gym, out of the gym, and at competitions. Qualifying for the second time in school history also shows just how much Illinois gymnastics is improving each year. Our program is growing, and so are our expectations. Each year, we want to end up at the big dance. This is what we work so hard for! To take you back to the moment we found out we made it, I swear we all started crying tears of joy. We were on the floor at the University of Alabama Regional competition, waiting to hear the results. Our last event had been a close one with Penn State, and we knew the results would be really tight. When we finally heard that we were the second place team, we were so excited! We are all really looking forward to the trip to Cleveland! Of course we all wish, just a little, that it was in a warmer city, but we have business to do, so Cleveland will be just fine!
HC: When was the last time Illinois qualified for the NCAA Championships?
The last time we qualified for the NCAA was actually in 2009-my freshman year! It was in Seattle, Washington at the University of Washington campus. We were the third seed team going into the competition, just behind Auburn and Utah. We were underdogs, but we didn't care. We had just ended probably the best season Illinois gymnastics had ever had. Breaking records, winning meets, the whole package! We knew that if we hit our routines and did everything we were capable of, we had a chance to make Nationals! Well we did just that! Sticking landings, tumbling high, and with a little help from Auburn, who had a bit of a rough meet, we had qualified for the first time in school history! It was one of the most amazing moments of my college career so far, and will never be erased from my memory. That feeling and raw emotion from everyone on my team that year is just unforgettable!
HC: Will you be competing in the championships and what is the preparation involved?
I will not personally be competing in the competition, but I will still be there on the floor with the team, cheering everyone on! We always say that every person on the team has a specific role, whether you are competing or not. Our motto this year deals with links. We have thirteen links that we pass to a new person before each meet to symbolize the thirteen people on our team. We are stronger together than we are alone. Even though I will not be in the competition lineup, I still train each day with the thought of being ready to jump in at anytime. We all train in order to be prepared. Anything can happen in gymnastics: injuries, illness, etc. I train each day with the mindset of helping my team in anyway possible, and that is the same with everyone else. If you ask my teammates, they will also tell you that I really love cheering on my teammates as well, and you can sometimes catch me on the side of the floor at meets, doing other people's floor routines. Kind of embarrassing, but if it makes people laugh and calms people down at competitions that's all that matters.
HC: How did you land the CBS News internship in New York this summer?
I really didn't do anything that out of the ordinary to get the CBS Internship. This fall, I decided that this summer was going to be my year for an internship. I was determined to send out as many resumes and applications as I could, anywhere in the country, just to get an internship at a news station. CBS was my dream internship, so I sent them a transcript, letters of recommendation, my resume, a cover letter, and maybe some other papers, and then just prayed. I sent the application out at the beginning of November and was told I would hear back around February. So I waited, and waited, and waited - keeping in contact with a few other news stations in Rhode Island and Boston who had already offered me internships, just in case CBS didn't come through with an offer. The beginning of February came around and I got a phone call. Little did I know that they were going to give me a pop quiz on the phone about current events! Let's just say I will never forget our country's deficit (it was one of the only questions I didn't know when they asked me). Luckily, they were impressed enough by my current events knowledge and resume, and a few weeks later, I received the official CBS News envelope in the mail with the congratulatory letter of acceptance. I remember opening it with my roommate in my apartment and immediately crying because I was just so happy! I couldn't believe it!
HC: What will the CBS News internship include?
To be honest, I have not received all of my information yet about what program I will be interning with. I am hoping I will be placed with CBS Sports, because I eventually want to be a sports reporter, but I think any experience will be amazing! I'm sure I will have to do normal intern activities, such as getting coffee, ordering everyone's lunch, etc., but I also hope I get some hands on experience in a large news market. And meeting Katie Couric would be pretty cool too!
HC: What are some tips for students trying to balance school, a sport, and still maintain a social life on campus?
I would say that time management is key. As athletes and students, we learn very early that if you want to have any sort of life outside of the gym, you have to get your work done. I make sure that I stay organized and on top of my work, in order to not get too overwhelmed or stressed out. It is harder to have a social life, I'm not going to lie, but we all make it work. While our social lives consist of the male gymnastics team and other athletes, most of the time, we all have friends outside of gym too, which is fun and makes us feel like normal students. If I could give one last piece of advice, I would say to enjoy what you are doing and take advantage of opportunities presented to you. Many opportunities are out there, and even if you are busy with a sport, you can still find ways to work around a busy schedule to experience them. We may not have the craziest or biggest social lives, but we definitely take the time to enjoy what the campus has to offer, which I think makes all of the traveling, time commitment, and practicing worth it!