During the last weekend in March, Jayne Finst ’04 was making one last sacrifice for gymnastics, a sport she says she has loved “since I’ve been old enough to remember.” While many of her classmates were using the first weekend of spring break to pursue warm sun, soft sand, and cold brews in exotic locations, Finst remained in Providence to prepare for the NCAA Regionals scheduled to begin at Penn State later that week. One measure of this sacrifice is that Finst has access to the ideal spring-break getaway: her parents live in Delray Beach, Florida, a perfect base from which to launch a week of warm-weather fun on the cheap.
But if Finst had any reservations about being ensconced in Providence’s late-March chill, she wasn’t showing them. She was, in fact, savoring the last weeks of a career that had begun nineteen years before, when her mother had taken her to “Mom and Me” toddler gymnastic classes. Now, two months away from her college graduation, she had already broken one Ivy League record and four Brown ones. Twice she had been named ECAC Gymnast of the Year. A two-time ECAC and Ivy champion on the balance beam, Finst had also won ECAC championships for her all-around performance and for her floor routine. She was an Ivy vault champion. Now, as the only Brown gymnast ever to qualify for the NCAA Regionals three times, Finst wanted to add one last accomplishment: to do well enough at the regionals to qualify for the NCAA national championship at UCLA. As a junior, Finst had missed qualifying for the nationals in the all-around competition by .05 point.
“This is the end of the road. It’s over after this,” Finst said. “I’m the person that I am because of gymnastics. It’s everything I live for. It’s sad, but at the same time I realize I’m ending this stage of my life and it’s time to let it go. I’ve been fortunate to have something in my life I’ve felt so passionate about. I’ll be looking for that replacement for gymnastics.”
Finst, a psychology major who cheerfully admits “I have no idea what I want to do” after graduation, selected Brown four years ago over some of the nation’s more renowned collegiate gymnastics programs precisely because she knew gymnastics would end one day. “It was a tough decision,” she recalled: “Go to an Ivy League school or take a scholarship and go to a state school. It was a matter of giving a little to gain a lot. I look back and it’s the best decision I could have made.”
A team cocaptain who this year served as copresident of the University’s student-athlete advisory board and has also served on the Ivy League student-athlete advisory board, Finst graduates as arguably the finest gymnast in the thirty-three-year history of the women’s varsity program. As a freshman at the Ivy League Classic at Yale, she scored a University- and league-record 9.925 on the balance beam, a mark that still stands. She also owns school records in the vault (9.775), floor exercise (9.9), and the all-around (39.175). Finst was named ECAC Gymnast of the Year in 2003 and earned the honor again this year at the ECAC Gymnastics Championship, where she led sixth-seeded Brown to a third-place finish. (Head coach Sara Carver-Milne was named ECAC Coach of the Year.)
By the NCAA Regionals, the first weekend in April, Finst had added some more difficult moves to her routines. But it wasn’t quite enough. The competition was dominated by such Division I powerhouses as Michigan, Georgia, New Hampshire, and host Penn State. Finst finished sixteenth overall, with a score of 38.25. To Carver-Milne, it was Finst’s best performance of her three Regionals appearances. “Qualifying for the Nationals,” Carver-Milne said, “would have simply been the icing on the cake. But it did not take away from her sense of accomplishment and a great ending to her career.”
Finst was satisfied. “I’m not jumping for joy,” she said, “but I knew the competition would be tough. I knew I had to do the best I could do. And I did it. I feel complete.” As she finished the vault, the tournament’s last event, she realized that gymnastics was now in her past. “I nailed the dismount,” she said. “I really stuck it. I saluted the judges, and Coach gave me a hug, and she had tears in her eyes.”