All-around excellence: Pelham native Cami Weaver’s journey to becoming an All-SEC gymnast at Arkansas

Published 12:22 pm Wednesday, April 3, 2024

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By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

While many roads to the top in gymnastics don’t typically start in Pelham, Alabama, Cami Weaver’s journey has been anything but typical.

From ascending the ranks at an upstart gym in her hometown to recovering from a devastating knee injury in her freshman year to success in both vault and beam at the college level, Weaver has forged a path of her own from the beginning.

Now, even as she takes the national stage for Arkansas gymnastics, she is proud to carry Pelham and Alabama on her shoulders while shining bright at one of the nation’s top programs.

Building a Legacy

Weaver’s love of gymnastics started after a short stint with ballet when she was five years old. It quickly became clear that she had too much energy for ballet and needed a sport that was better suited for her.

“I was always the one rolling around,” Weaver said. “I couldn’t sit still, I was very hyperactive in these classes. And I was like, ‘I can’t do ballet. I’m bored.’”

The Weaver family then found Legacy Gymnastics which had opened in Pelham just a few years before she wanted to start gymnastics. Once she joined Legacy, she rapidly took to the sport and rose up the ranks at a fast pace as she took classes there.

While training at Legacy, she began competing in competitions, and in 2017, she mastered enough skills to become a Level 10 gymnast, the highest classification of gymnasts by USA Gymnastics and just one step below the elite gymnasts who compete for spots on Team USA.

She won the Alabama state all-around championship three times and qualified for the Junior Olympic Nationals twice before signing with the University of Arkansas to compete in college.

As Weaver grew as a gymnast, so did Legacy as a gym. However, while some elite gymnasts may have opted to move gyms or even go out of the state for training, she stayed at Legacy, training just 10 minutes from her house under head coach Brianna Salter Mitchell and her staff.

“That gym, it just opened like two years before I started, so, it was a really young gym, and so we took a leap of faith and trusted our coach and I grew up there,” Weaver said. “I never changed gyms. I trusted in her and she was able to help me get to this level.”

As a high-level gymnast in a growing gym, she often led classes and taught gymnastics to the younger athletes. She believes that stepping up as a leader helped pave the way for her to succeed once she made it to Arkansas and was surrounded by high-level gymnasts.

“I think growing up in a smaller gym helped me thrive in college because I was usually one of the older ones,” Weaver said. “We didn’t really have a lot of Level 10’s. I was usually the one that was leading the gym and being able to step up, and I think coming to college with people that are all my level really helped me be able to step in and thrive in this area of gymnastics.”

Cami Weaver earned All-SEC honors on beam in 2024 for the Gymbacks. (Contributed/University of Arkansas Athletics)

Road to the top

However, it wasn’t smooth sailing when she arrived in Fayetteville, Arkansas to compete for the Arkansas Gymbacks.

In her collegiate debut in 2022, Weaver tore her ACL on a vault. The knee injury not only ended her freshman season after just one routine, but it set her on a long journey to rehab her knee and return to competition.

Weaver took advantage of her time on the sidelines to watch and learn how her teammates competed and support them throughout the season.  She believes she grew as a person in the process and made the most of an unfortunate situation to come back smarter and stronger.

That growth was evident from the minute she started her redshirt freshman season in 2023 as she won the vault title at her first meet of the season at Nebraska with a 9.875.

That win set the stage for a strong season where she competed in Arkansas’ vault and beam lineups at every single meet and rocketed towards the top of the SEC in the process.

As she looks back on her road to recovery, she is proud of the growth she experienced while rehabbing.

“Coming back from that honestly has been one of the most rewarding and bittersweet feelings because it wasn’t something I wanted to go through, but it made me stronger as a person and an athlete,” Weaver said. “I really enjoyed going through the journey with the people that I love surrounding me and supporting me, and finding success with it is just another icing on the cake with it. But it’s been a really awesome journey and I’ve learned a lot about myself and about my team.”

That success continued into the balance beam, where less than two weeks after her win at Nebraska, she claimed her first event title in the beam with a 9.950, a career-high that still stands over a year later.

In addition, the victory came at Auburn, and her entire family and many of her Legacy teammates were there to celebrate with her.

Weaver loves competing in her home state, and her success has been a welcome extra to returning home. On top of her beam title in 2023, she helped the Gymbacks set a program-record score of 197.525 in a tie with Alabama.

“It was awesome,” Weaver said of the win at Auburn. “I loved having my whole family there. I loved having my gym there. I was able to see a lot of old teammates. Getting to compete in Alabama is really bittersweet. Honestly, I love traveling to Alabama. You can ask anybody. I’m always so excited to go, and I’m really thankful that we’re able to travel to meets like that, and winning that title, honestly, I didn’t even expect to. I just went up and tried to do the best routine for the team, but then I got the title, and it was just awesome because I got to celebrate with the people that I love.”

She ended the season on a high note by earning her second 9.900 vault of the year at the SEC Championship, securing All-SEC honors on vault in just her first full season in college and helping Arkansas set the SEC Championship record for vault with a 49.425.

That dominance continued into 2024 when she improved on her all-around success. She remained a mainstay in the vault lineup, and in her first meet of the year against Georgia on Jan. 12, she tied for the vault title with the third 9.900 of her career.

However, it was beam where she saw the biggest improvements. In a tough road battle with LSU on Feb. 2, she scored her first 9.925 of the season on beam, and she matched that figure later at home against Missouri on Mar. 3.

Then, under the bright lights of the SEC Championship on March 23 in New Orleans, she hit another 9.925 on beam, the first by an Arkansas gymnast since 2018, and claimed All-SEC honors on beam.

For Weaver, earning All-SEC honors for the second straight season was a great honor and the culmination of her hard work this season.

“It’s really special getting that title,” Weaver said of earning All-SEC. “Obviously, I got it last year on vault, I got it this year on beam, like those are my two events that I compete, but I’ve worked really hard on those events and I’ve also been pushed really hard by my teammates and we held ourselves to a different standard this year. And so, I’m really honored to be able to add that to my resume.”

Since vault and beam require different skillsets in her eyes, she is proud of how she balances both events to find success in each of them. She believes her success in 2023 helped set the stage for improvements this season.

“Honestly they’re very different events, like it takes a little bit of different mental toughness on each one,” Weaver said. “Vault is very powerful and beam is very poised and graceful, so definitely having a year of experience under my belt on both of those events helps.”

Beyond that, though, she also credits her teammates for pushing her harder, and she thinks the competitiveness within the team is the reason why Arkansas has set so many records this year.

“I think we’ve all just worked way harder in the gym and just held ourselves to a higher standard this year and that’s why we have so much success,” Weaver said.

Alongside that competitiveness, Weaver has seen the team grow closer together throughout the season. She sees similarities between this year’s Gymbacks and her teams growing up in Pelham, and she is grateful for that support.

“I think having such a close relationship with my team, like this year, our team chemistry and our team culture is just unmatched,” Weaver said. “I think everyone cares about each other. Everyone loves each other and we’re very supportive of each other, and that’s no different from what I grew up with. And honestly, that has made such a difference in our team and in our success this year.”

Sticking the landing

Weaver will lead No. 12 Arkansas into its biggest meet of the season on April 4 as it faces No. 7 Kentucky, Arizona and Arkansas in regionals, and for the first time for this group of Gymbacks, they will host regionals at home in Bud Walton Arena.

For Weaver, it’s a chance for her and her teammates to continue a historic season for Arkansas and showcase what their program is about.

“It is an honor to be able to host at our home arena,” Weaver said. “Obviously, we have before, but this team specifically hasn’t been able to do that, and I think we’re taking it as a challenge and we’re going to step up to the challenge. We’ve already broken so many records this year, why not keep going? We’ve all agreed to the standard and all of us have decided that this is the year like, ‘We are Arkansas gymnastics, we are going to show people we’re on the map,’ and what better way to do it than hosting your own regional? I think this is a really great opportunity for us to show everyone how hard we’ve been working and how much we’ve been stepping up each week, and regionals is no different.”

Weaver is proud of her team’s achievements to this point and hopes to advance beyond regionals to help Arkansas reach new heights as a program.

“I hope that our team makes nationals,” Weaver said. “I think we will, but I think making history and making the Elite Eight would be awesome. I think setting records and breaking them with this team has been really special this year and I think why not just keep going?”

Weaver will return to Arkansas next season after she graduates in December with a degree in public heath. However, no matter where he professional or gymnastics career takes her, she is proud to represent her hometown of Pelham on the national stage.

“It’s like a dream,” Weaver said. “Coming from Alabama, obviously it’s not as big of a gymnastics state, but being able to represent it, it’s been awesome and I’m really honored to.”