Gimnastas.net recently interviewed Roxana Popa. Popa was born in Romania but moved to Spain at the age of six. She was an immediate asset to the Spanish team. She was a member of their junior European team and continued her success as a senior. In 2013, she finished sixth in the all around and seventh in the floor final at the European Championship. She competed at both the 2013 and 2014 World Championships where she competed in the all around finals. At the end of 2014, she had a knee injury that revealed a torn ACL that was likely an old injury. Since then, Popa has had multiple surgeries and is now recovering from a procedure in October. She did return to competition at the 2015 World Championships where she competed on the uneven bars. Popa was best known for her prowess on the uneven bars and floor exercise.
Hello, Roxana. Thank you very much for answering our questions. Could you please tell us how you started doing gymnastics?
I started at age 4. I was a very hyperactive girl that used to climb the furniture around the house, jump, and run non-stop. My mother did rhythmic gymnastics and that's why she realized that I needed to relieve that energy, and not in the same gymnastics discipline as her. So she took me to the gym where I then trained for about two years.
When we got to the gym, the coach (Ciprian Cretu) said that I was very young and when I heard it I began to cry, and I don't know in what order things happened, but according to what my mother told me, I began to climb a rope that was in the gym while they were talking, and when the coach saw me he asked me to stay that afternoon. At the end of the training session he told my parents that I had a talent that could be clearly seen, and that's how everything began.
How was your life in Romania?
I honestly don't remember much. I remember my father used to work abroad because he was a general officer in the armed forces, he was in the navy, and my brother and I used to stay with my mother. Later on, my father came to Spain and soon afterwards it was my mother the one who left, leaving me with my maternal grandparents and my brother with my grandmother on my father's side. Some time later, when they saved enough money, they were able to bring us to Spain by bus.
When did you move to Spain? What was the hardest part in a personal level? And about gymnastics, what was the hardest part of starting training here? What differences did you notice in the ways of training between Romania and Spain?
We came to Spain when I was about 6 years old, so because of the kind of training that you do at that age, you don't really appreciate any changes. Training was not hard for me at all. The first place we went to was to the Spanish National Training Center in Madrid, hoping I could train with Jesús Carballo. I also had a letter of recommendation from my coach in Romania, but once again I was too young, and they sent me to the best place I could go to until I turned the age to prepare for the junior category, and then return to the Spanish National Training Center to start my gymnastics career seriously. But it didn’t turn out like that for different reasons that I partially don't know, they didn't want me to leave, and they got into my head that the National Training Center was a horrible place where you get beaten up, and many more things. Today, after five years, almost six, of being in the National Center, and after two Olympic cycles in which the gymnasts have changed, I have never seen or have been through anything like that. Moreover, I am who I am thanks to them.
In a personal level, it took me quite a lot to fit in at school, not because of the language but because of my classmates. Let's say I had a difficult Primary school, also because of the teachers, who never quite understood my situation; we didn't own a car yet and I had to take three buses to get to the gym every afternoon, and another three to go back home, coming to practice at around 7 p.m. and leaving at 9 p.m., and getting home at 10-11 p.m., and then shower, dinner, and homework and more homework. I always fell asleep while doing them, and my parents used to try to finish them so that I didn't have problems at school ... But of course the following day the teachers, despite the efforts of my parents, would realize that it wasn't me who had done the homework, so they tore the sheets out of my notebook and I had to start all over.
How and when did you start training in the Spanish National Training Center in Madrid?
I got there because of my elbow injury after the club responsible for the injury left me in the lurch, I was not useful for them anymore. The second surgery was carried out thanks to María José San Martín (from the Spanish Gymnastics Federation), she was the only person who got involved in my case and got Dr. González to see me in the Deyre clinic. He got in touch with Dr. Tabuenca, who was my surgeon, and they laid down the details of my surgery. Then I started my recovery in the National Training Center in Madrid with the support of the technical team, and they were the ones that, besides giving me a second chance to live a normal life, got me back to gymnastics.
What are your best and worst memories to date in gymnastics?
My best memories... I think the best of them all was, on the one hand, the American Cup; before entering the competition arena it came to me the memory of everything, that a few years before I would be retired, I simply thought: "Look where you got" and I began to cry, trying to hide it, but I did cry, I admit it. On the other hand, the first competition in which I competed after [the injury] of my cruciate [ligament], the Novara Cup, when I finished my uneven bars routine. Once again, the words of my mother -which she hasn’t stopped repeating since March, when I had the second surgery on the knee -came to my mind: "You're strong, we'll get through this, you're going to make it."
The worst moments are related to several things, starting with the second surgery in my elbow, to how I spent the week in the hospital suffering the physical rehabilitation. The day after the surgery they removed the cast. It had been placed with my arm extended and with the palm up, and they started to move my arm by force. I could not stop crying out in pain and begging them to stop, but it was the best for me. And with that came the disappointment to all of the people around me (except by my family obviously), which made me realize that when they get something out of you you are useful, but when you are not, they give you the heave-ho.
On the other hand, I remember María Paula Vargas' injuries. I became very attached to her, she was my role model and I remember it hurt seeing her go through both injuries, and seeing her getting out of both helped me face my knee injury.
The last and worst moment I might say, because I've been aware of all of it, has been seeing in March how the Olympic Games slipped between my fingers after so long and so much ... It is painful.
Of all the places you've competed, what has been your favorite or where would you like to compete again?
American Cup. It has always been something I have dreamed of. I remember watching the competitions when I was little, with the flag in the background, and saying: "I want to be there."
What is your favorite event? And your favorite skill? What skill or combination would you like to do in the future?
My favorite event... Honestly if I had to choose it would be between the uneven bars and floor. My favorite skill... I could not say: double layout on floor, the tumbling pass with the whip backs... I enjoyed doing them. On the uneven bars, the full twisting double layout dismount, the Shaposnikova... I have no favorite elements as such. I would like to pull off the elements that I once worked on: the full-in full-out on floor, the Amanar vault, the full-in full-out layout dismount on bars, etc.
Do you choose your own floor music? With what kind of music do you feel most comfortable?
I usually suggest and search for music. The latest ones were chosen for me by Sara Bayón, coach of the national rhythmic gymnastics group.
What gymnasts do you admire?
I don’t admire just one. I admire many who, like me, have their story, and having gone through similar things you understand them better and you appreciate the effort.
Could you please explain the problems you've had in your knee? Will you have surgery again? (Note that the questions for this interview were sent to her before her latest surgery and she didn’t respond until after the surgery) Could you please tell us why, and how long do you think it will take you to recover?
In December 2014 I broke my cruciate ligament in the AMG [Mexican Gymnastics Open], I had surgery and they fixed it, they took a piece of my lateral meniscus and another one was sewn into the medial meniscus. I started training slowly, and in March this year without a bad fall, for no apparent reason, I broke my medial meniscus, the one that was sewn. I had surgery again in April and the loose piece was removed. For some reason I had the feeling that my knee went out rather frequently and even when doing things such as walking faster, or running, or going downstairs... I went back to have Dr. Leyes, our surgeon, and he concluded that there was hypermobility in the cruciate ligament and had a considerable pivot. I had an MRI but nothing could be seen in it because what was used to secure the ligament was a piece that caused a stain on the screen. The only option was to have surgery again but this time a tendon would have to be brought from the morgue. I have had the tunnels enlarged, the tendon has been moved through the tibia to limit the pivot and reduce the chances of that movement breaking it again. The surgery went better than expected, there were no complications. I was in the hospital under observation from Friday, the 14th of October until Monday, when I left hospital, and afterwards I spent two weeks with the splint at home. Over time, what is sought this time is a little stiffness to avoid the hypermobility of the tendon, so physical rehabilitation will be much slower and controlled. The rehabilitation period will take more or less about 9 months, and for top competition, some more.
Were you able to train in recent months?
Not since March, when I broke my meniscus and started with the bad sensations again.
Overall you've been rather unlucky with injuries, besides the change of nationality, etc. What keeps you motivated to keep doing gymnastics?
It is not motivation, you know you have to fight your way out of each of them, because when you get more mature, gymnastically speaking, you know that sooner or later you will get injured. No athlete enjoys getting injured nor undergoing physical rehabilitation, we like to train, but without a proper rehabilitation that will not be possible, so the love for the sport you do is what makes you keep going.
What are your plans for the future in gymnastics? What do you think could be your next competition? Do you think you will be able to participate in the next European Championships, that will be held in your home country Romania?
Unfortunately, no. I'd love to, but first comes my knee, and my recovery is the most important thing. To date I have lost the most you could lose at a competitive level, so everything else can wait.
Besides gymnastics, are you working or at school right now?
I'm at school, since last year I left it to prepare for the Olympic Games.
Have you ever considered competing NCAA or has any American University offered you a scholarship? Have you perhaps received any offer from an European league? Do you follow American collegiate gymnastics, European leagues, or like a team in particular?
I've never thought about it, but I have seen some competitions, and it's a joy to watch, it is a very nice way to take your gymnastics career to another level when you decide to stop competing elite.
What would you like to do when you retire?
I honestly don't know, I've thought a lot about becoming a choreographer, it is something I've always enjoyed and it would be another way to stay involved with gymnastics. Apart from that, I have also considered some things outside of gymnastics, but I can't make up my mind.
What do you think of the situation of Romanian gymnastics now that they didn’t qualify a team for the Olympics, or that Cătălina was the individual representative?
I think that they are not machines. Gymnastics is a sport in which you can lose, and it's OK. I think it is disrespectful when people criticize their losing streak. Behind the misfortune of failing and not qualifying, there is a lot of work by newcomers and inexperienced girls, but also by the veterans and the coaches. It's a sport, no one is programmed to always win.
We have seen that you have a leotard with your signature, and we loved it when we saw it. Is it still for sale? Could you give us a link in case anyone wants to buy it?
Yes! A new leotard has been recently released, actually Gimar Gym has done a great job. It may sound weird... But even I wanted to have it, lol. They have it on their official website, here: http://www.gimargym.com/home/165-elegance-verde.html
Out of curiosity and because we have seen your snapchats, how many cats do you have?
I have 7, yes 7. I love them, why lie. My parents brought home the first cat we had, who unfortunately got lost, but I brought home all the others.
We've seen you post quite often on social networks. Do you interact much with the people who follow you?
Yes, whenever I can. Actually I don't usually look at the messages but when I do I always try to answer. I've always tried to give people the idea that they won't bother me if they write to me; on the contrary, I like it, in the end I am a normal girl.
We are going to translate this interview into English since you have many fans abroad, is there anything you want to tell them?
Little more than what is already known, thanks for the support received during these past two years from all over the world.
And in general, is there anything else you would like to add or you want to tell us?
About my leotard, it is not known exactly when, but a new one will be released soon.
Thank you very much, Roxana. We wish you the best. :)
Thank you GimnastasNet. You can read the original Spanish interview here.