We all know that type of leadership approach where they yell and scream in your face until you do it right, whatever “it” may be. Some people excel under that technique and thrive off of the pressure to succeed, but many people do not.
Senior men’s gymnastics captain Ryan Ponce is more of a lead-by-example type of guy, and why not, when the example being set is pretty much perfected. With a 15.633 average, Ponce was ranked No. 1 in the nation among all gymnasts in the still rings. He has received titles such as CGA National Men’s Gymnast of the Week and ECAC Gymnast of the week, and is still the defending USAG and EIGL national champion on the rings.
The trend that we are used to as humans is the act of mimicking what we are taught. If an older brother or sister acted a certain way, the youngest would usually follow. But in Ponce’s case, he was exposed to one form of leadership, but chose to practice another.
In high school, Ponce was a part of the Tri-Town Gymnastics team where his coach, Frank Valentin, was a firm believer in yelling as a form of motivation. Although he doesn’t practice what he was preached, Ponce responded with an enthusiastic “definitely” when asked if he owes much of his success to having been coached under Valentin.
“Ryan is very quiet. He is not a yeller at all. The team responds well to him because he is respectable, very self-directed,” said head coach Steve Posner.
The Tolland, Conn. native is not only self-motivated, but he is also quite the stubborn one. Ponce has definitely had his share of injuries – broken leg, broken elbow, shin stress fractures, dislocated fingers… the list goes on and on. Having started doing gymnastics at age three, Ponce has certainly worked up a high tolerance to pain.
“I rarely go to the trainers. If I’m hurting, I just push through it and it eventually goes away. I’ve probably iced a total of three times,” said Ponce with a laugh.
This laid back Sports Biology major is clearly an extraordinary athlete with many accomplishments secured under his belt, but upon meeting him for the first time, you would have never known it. There is not an ounce of arrogance in him; Ponce is as selfless as Mother Theresa.
“Sure, he has his own goals and skills to work on, but during practice everyone else’s progress is just as important to him as his own, and I believe that is where people respect him the most,” said teammate Patrick Hanley.
Undeniably talented, Ponce does not lack that sympathetic side that some athletes do. Friends of his have been caught saying, “great athlete, better friend.” He puts others before himself and is always willing to help anyone who asks.
“I think Ryan’s most unique quality inside the gym [and outside] as a close friend is the ability to keep a calm and level head through any situation. Whether I have a skill I can’t make in the gym or a test for a class that I’m clueless in, Ryan has no problem sitting there listening and giving his best rational thought on the subject,” said Hanley. “He always seems to see the positive side in any predicament, which has been a blessing as a teammate and as a friend.”
As for his future, Ponce has his eyes on the prize: Division I All-American. Might as well aim for the top spot, right?
“As an athlete, I expect high possibilities for Ryan. He has a shot to do big things,” praised Posner, without a shred of doubt in his voice.
It is fitting that Ponce’s parents, Debby and Vince, are just as dedicated as their son. Having traveled as far as Colorado to watch him in action. Ponce described his mother and father as his No. 1 supporters.
“They don’t really have a limit as to where they will go. The only meet they’ve ever missed was when I was in middle school,” explained Ponce.
Ponce’s ability to capture an audience with his raw talent is something you have to see for yourself. Don’t miss the opportunity to see him in his element at the 104th Gymnastics Exhibition Show on October 25th and 26th. His nationally-recognizable talent on the still rings will be unlike any performance you have ever seen.