If you're Valorie Kondos-Field, head coach of the UCLA women's gymnastics team, anything is possible.
Despite being diagnosed with scoliosis—curvature of the spine—when she was a child, Kondos-Field took lessons in horseback riding, piano and ballet. When she was 12, Kondos-Field saw Olga Korbut perform at the 1972 Olympics and decided that she wanted to be a gymnast. But her parents, told by doctors that dancing would help correct their daughter's swayback, would not allow her to stop her ballet lessons.
"So I'd come home from ballet and go out in my backyard and try to teach myself gymnastics," she says.
While a junior in high school, Kondos-Field took a job as a piano player for a local gymnastics team and was schooled in the biomechanics of gymnastics by the head coach, Jim Stephenson. At 17, the young dancer—who had been performing with the Sacramento Ballet and the Capital City Ballet—moved to New York and later to Washington, D.C., to study dance.
It was during a visit back home to Sacramento in 1982 that Kondos-Field found out about an opening for a dance coach for the UCLA gymnastics team. She got the job and was initially assigned to coach balance beam. In 1990, she was hired as head coach, a move that caused an uproar around the country.
"People were saying, 'Why would UCLA, which has one of the best gymnastics programs in the country, hire this dancer/choreographer to be their head coach?'" Kondos-Field recalls.
"But I've learned that if you're humble enough to admit you don't know everything, people are willing to help you learn."
Since then, she's silenced her critics by recruiting top athletes and creating unparalleled floor routines for which UCLA has become well-known. She was named national Coach of the Year in 1996 and 1997 and led her team to the top prize in 1997 and 2000—the NCAA championship title.