UI gymnast having a ball on campus

UI gymnast having a ball on campus

He won't throw a fit if he doesn't win the Dike Eddleman Award. He won't pick up his pommel horse and go home or throw rosin in the face of the judges.

Travis Romagnoli, as fine a gymnast ever to call the University of Illinois home, is above all that. If he isn't named the UI's top student-athlete – the selection committee meets this week – he'll give Robert Holcombe or Eric Siebert or Oliver Freelove or Bobby True or Brett Weber a pat on the back, then head straight to a bar.

The parallel kind, not the sticky floors of Green Street.

"It's great to be mentioned. It promotes the sport," Romagnoli said. "Up here, a lot of people don't know what I've done."

"Up here" is Canada, Romagnoli's home.

"What I've done" is win an NCAA championship in the all-around, earn more All-America honors than he can remember and have in his possession more ribbons (most of them blue) than House of Fabric.

All of which makes him a leading candidate for the Dike Eddleman Award.

As a gymnast (unusual at the UI).

As a Canadian (unheard of at the UI).

As a guitar-playing, hockey-loving smarty-pants (could be a first at the UI).

Jack of all trades

There is more to Romagnoli than somersaults and backflips.

There's a music career.

He has a way to go to catch Jimmy Page or Keith Richards, but the junior-to-be can play a mean guitar. And not the kind you find next to the LPs at Wal-Mart. Romagnoli owns a Fender Telecaster, a solid-body beauty he picked up five years ago.

Since then he's learned a few Metallica songs, a few Police songs. Now he's making his own songs – Romagnoli and fellow UI gymnasts Jon Corbitt (bass) and Kurt Hettinger (drums) have formed a band and produced original material.

They don't have a name – the Gym Blossoms? – but do have plans. "We want to play some parties," Romagnoli said. "All we're looking for is a singer."

If he can't be the next Springsteen, there's always bio-engineering. That's his major, Romagnoli interested in areas like the building of artificial limbs and forensic medicine.

With his grade-point average (3.54 on a 4.0 scale) and work ethic (he actually likes to study), Romagnoli has potential in the field.

Then there's hockey, the Little League baseball of Canada.

Romagnoli's parents had him up and skating at age 5. On the smallish side – he's now 5-foot-5 and 137 pounds – Romagnoli didn't drop the gloves much, but did develop into a swift center.

If the UI's club team needed help ...

Well, he does have a hockey card collection, knows who's playing in the Stanley Cup finals (Washington and Detroit) and is big fan of Ray Bourque, but that's where Romagnoli draws the line these days.

"My hockey playing days ore over," he said.

That's because his gymnastics career is thriving, although few in his hometown of Aurora, Ontario, know it.

Plenty of competition

Not while the Blue Jays are in action (it's a 40-minute drive to Toronto). Not with the National Hockey League draft coming up. Not with all the lumberjack competitions.

"It's not very big up here," he said of his preferred sport.

That is the reason why Romagnoli has enjoyed his stay at Illinois so much. People care about the sport, from his coach to his teammates to the handful of fans who show up at Kenney Gym or Huff Hall.

In Canada, Romagnoli had to drive an hour to find a high bar. There's one around the block at the UI.

"My feelings ever since I came to school have changed," said Romagnoli, who is thinking about applying to become an American citizen. "(In Canada), it wasn't fun. That's the bottom line").

Now everything's fun. He's in a band. He's on a national championship caliber team. He's excelling in the classroom. And he's a finalist for one of the premier awards on campus with two more years of elibility remaining.

What else is there to do?

"Skateboarding," he said. "I've seen the X Games and it looks awesome."

Jim Rossow is sports editor of The News-Gazette.

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