Sisterly success

Pat Traylor

Pat Traylor

By Jessica Warchall

Danye and Marijka Botterman have been training together since they were six and four-years-old. Since then it has been difficult to find one without the other. The only time the two were apart was in 2003 when Danye came to Illinois for gymnastics, and Marijka was in high school. Even then they were hard to separate.

Calls home to Marijka at 4 a.m. were common just so Danye could tell her she missed her. Danye often shed tears at the prospect of Marijka not joining her as an Illini. She visited Marijka back home in New Lenox, Ill, to train with her whenever she got the chance.

“I could not imagine Marijka not being here,” Danye said. “I couldn’t handle it.”

Now that Marijka is a freshman at Illinois and Danye is a junior, it is Marijka who cannot handle the prospect of their younger sister Kylee, 16, not coming to Illinois for gymnastics. She is a high school junior being scouted by the current No. 1 team in NCAA women’s gymnastics, Georgia. Roles have switched, and Marijka is now the one shedding tears and traveling home to practice with Kylee whenever she has a chance.

“This is the last place I wanted to come, but looking back this is where I belong,” Marijka said. “I couldn’t picture myself anywhere else. It was definitely Danye that made me come here.”

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The Botterman’s began their career in gymnastics when their mom, Laurie, coached them at a small park district program in Mokena, Ill. When the gym closed, they had to look for a new program and chose Gym-Kinetics. Marijka was in seventh grade and Danye was a freshman in high school when they began training with new coaches Glen Willmeng and Dana Poncin.

Before Danye began focusing solely on gymnastics, she took a one-year break in eighth grade to cheerlead – she quickly realized that was not her calling.

“I’ve done gymnastics my entire life,” Danye said. “I didn’t just want to stop doing it.”

Marijka had a similar experience when she was a freshman at Chicago Christian High School and decided to try her hand at volleyball.

“I had to quit either volleyball or gymnastics,” Marijka said. “I quit gymnastics for one day, but Glen talked to me and told me I had a future in gymnastics, so that was it – I went back.”

After exploring different interests, the Bottermans put their hearts into gymnastics.

“They were two of the hardest workers to ever come out of Gym-Kinetics – they loved competition,” Willmeng said. “While most gymnasts were counting down the seconds until the meet was over, they were enjoying every second of it.”

Danye qualified for Level 10 Nationals, the highest level in club gymnastics, in 2002 and was Level 9 National vault champion in 2001. Danye is described by her teammates and coaches as motivated and outgoing. Willmeng said before her Level 9 vault competition she had a terrible warm-up and at one point nearly fell off of the landing mat. However, Danye persevered and hit her routine, going home a champion. Poncin said her tremendous smile always prevailed even when she was having a rough day in the gym.

“At times Danye would make the judges forget that they were judging just because they were so wrapped up in watching her have fun,” Poncin said.

In addition to club gymnastics, Danye competed for her one-person high school team as a freshman. The athletic director asked her to compete for Chicago-Christian High School, and being the outgoing, go-getter she is, she competed in sectionals, regionals and state.

Marijka was a four-time Level 10 Nationals qualifier. She also qualified as an alternate to the Region 5 All-Star team in 2005. Right before the regional competition in Colorado, a teammate tore her ACL warming up for the first event, vault. Marijka was thrown into the lineup.

Poncin said Marijka didn’t even have her leotard on when she found out she was to perform. Marijka and her laid-back, perfectionist personality did not give into the pressure and she placed as an all-arounder.

“I remember getting the chills watching her take on the pressure and be so excited at the same time,” Poncin said. “She was definitely the star of the day and couldn’t have done better.”

Danye and Marijka brought their will to succeed with them to Illinois. Illinois women’s gymnastics head coach Bob Starkell describes Danye as extremely competitive ever since she entered the gym as a freshman.

“Danye is outgoing, energetic, and is always there to motivate people when they’re down,” teammate Cara Pomeroy said. “She is an amazing competitor, she’s so determined; when she wants it she’ll do it – she hits everything.”

As a freshman, Danye become the No. 1 vaulter for the Illini, competing in vault and floor in every meet. She hit 31-of-33 overall routines (.939) and won five event titles, all on vault, that season. During her sophomore year, she increased her routines hit to 36-of-37 (.973) and added two more vault titles to her repertoire.

Danye said her biggest achievement at Illinois is that she has become a team leader.

“Danye is a leader based on her will to want to win, and that attitude is definitely contagious,” assistant coach Kim Mazza said. “She thrives on the fact that this is a team sport.”

All of the Botterman’s coaches believe that the sisters have been good for each other in the gym. Assistant coach Jenny Alf said Marijka has seen Danye’s success and is striving for her own.

“It’s really good for them when they can feed off of each other,” Alf said. “They’ll push each other, which is a little sisterly love that you don’t always see.”

Marijka has made the largest transition of Illinois’ seven freshmen, and is quickly stepping up to the role of an all-arounder, which is hard for a freshman to do, her coaches said.

Marijka is an understanding person, characterized by her ability to willingly accept corrections even when they might not fuse with what she is thinking, Starkell said.

Marijka is proving herself as an all-arounder – she achieved her first career all-around title posting a 38.675 on Saturday at Ohio State.

“I know that Marijka will excel in NCAA gymnastics and be a great all-arounder in future years,” Mazza said. “She’s going to be a leader on the team.”

Marijka attained a personal-best vault score of 9.875 and a personal-best beam score of 9.825 for second place against UIC.

The Botterman’s teammates say the sisters cheer each other on during practices and meets and may say things to each other that they would not say to others on the team. Marijka said Danye often does this unintentionally, but they welcome the extra criticism, even if it is harsh. Danye said it comes from being teammates their entire lives.

“When Danye and Marijka are in the gym they are just like any other person on the team. You would never know that they are sisters by the way they act toward each other in the gym,” Mazza said. “They’re just like teammates.”

Danye and Marijka are happy to be back in the gym working out together after two years apart, but this was not always the case in club gymnastics.

“When we were in high school and Marijka would beat me in a meet, I’d get so mad because I’d think I’m the older sister so I should be better,” Danye said. “But now that our younger sister has surpassed us both I don’t think like that. We grew up and realized it didn’t matter.”

Danye and Marijka say they are best friends and do not fight like you would assume sisters do. Their teammates say they are always together outside of the gym, whether it is to spend time with their large family, go on a shopping spree, or quench a craving for ice-cream.

Even though they have been virtually inseparable their entire lives, they manage to keep their individuality, but you can tell they have a special bond.

“The Bottermans are more nervous when their sister is competing than when they themselves compete,” Willmeng said. “They are more concerned to see each other happy.”