MTHS grad balances college gymnastics, academics

Kai Tindall
Kai Tindall

By Doug Petrowski

“I forgot the routine in my first meet and stood out in the middle of the floor not knowing what to do.” That’s how Kai Tindall remembers her first competitive gymnastics meet many years ago.

Tindall has come a long way since that first competition. She’s now in her third season as a member of the Seattle Pacific University gymnastics team and is hoping to help send her squad to yet another national championship competition this April.

A 2010 graduate of Mountlake Terrace High School, Tindall grew up in Brier before enrolling at Seattle Pacific. The junior is majoring in Integrated Education with an emphasis in social studies and language, but is also building upon her long experience in competitive gymnastics while at the school.

“I was probably in the gym when I was one week old,” she explains. “I grew up in the gym; it was my day care.” All this early exposure to gymnastics came about for one basic reason: Tindall’s mom is long-time Seattle Pacific University gymnastics coach Laurel Tindall, now in her 35th year coaching the Division II school.

“I’ve been really blessed,” Kai Tindall said of her relationship with the SPU gymnastics program. “When I was a kid, I traveled with the team. I got to watch and learn from the college girls.”  And while other gymnastics hopefuls may have trained at neighborhood or public school gyms, Tindall grew up using the facilities and equipment at Falcon Gymnastics.

It hasn’t hurt having a four-time national coach of the year as a mom either. “We don’t always get along,” Tindall said, adding that balancing the hard-driving coach-athlete relationship with the more personal nature of a mother-daughter bond has required the two to define how they communicate with each other. “At the gym I call her Laurel, not mom, and we agree not to talk about the gym when we are outside of it,” Tindall explained.

“It’s a little easier now that I don’t live at home,” she added. “I’ll call her up and ask if she wants to have some mom time once in a while.”

Attending SPU is a family affair for Tindall; her dad, Dave Tindall, is the assistant vice president for Technology Services, and she also had an uncle teaching in the school’s communications department.

As a junior, Tindall will be expanding her role on the gymnastics team by competing in three events for the first time at SPU — the vault, the balance beam and the floor exercise. “I don’t do bars because of a previous shoulder surgery,” she said. The injury occurred in July 2009, which was followed less than a year later by a wrist injury when she tried to return to parallel bars competition.

“I’ve been a little injury prone,” she confessed.

This year, the gymnast has been trying to compete with shin splints, noting that “training has not been a piece of cake.” She credits the team’s assistant coaches and trainers helping her get ready for the January-April collegiate season. At the team’s opening dual meet of the year on Jan. 11, Tindall achieved scores of 8.825 on the vault and 8.900 on the floor; then on Jan. 18 at the team’s first home meet, she scored a 7.600 on the vault, 8.400 on the beam and a 9.200 on the floor.

Tindall says the floor exercise are her favorite. “It’s the most lively event, with the music and the crowd involvement,” she said.

As for life beyond competitive gymnastics, Tindall has known for some time that she will pursue elementary school teaching; “Maybe second or third grade,” she pondered. After earning her bachelor’s degree in 2014, Kai plans on returning to Seattle Pacific for a fifth year to obtain her teaching certification and a masters’ degree, both of which she is on track to accomplish.

And as for the sport she loves? “I might coach gymnastics on the side,” she said.

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