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An elbow injury and mental adversity during high school drove Baylee Tkaczuk to briefly quit gymnastics—a sport that had been her focus since kindergarten.

The talented UW Oshkosh gymnast and sophomore psychology major from Channahon, Illinois, said a change of gym and coaches helped her overcome the physical injuries and mental blocks that were created years earlier. She continued to dream of competing in Division I gymnastics, though interest seemed to cool after her injury.

“They decide (on scholarships) early in gymnastics,” Tkaczuk said. “I was going to walk-on to a D1 school. My mom came with me to school visits. My last visit was at a university in Chicago.”

One of her club gymnastics coaches suggested she call Lauren Karnitz, the head women’s gymnastics coach at UW Oshkosh. Karnitz, she said, was interested in having Tkaczuk on the Titans team and wanted to talk to her before she committed anywhere.

“I had no idea they had Division III gymnastics,” Tkaczuk said about Oshkosh, recalling that Karnitz was excited about her gymnastics.

“She told me I could be a ‘little fish in a big pond’ or a ‘big fish in a little pond’ and she could see me with big success (at Oshkosh),” Tkaczuk said. “After freshman year, I proved it.”

Karnitz, who has coached at UWO for 11 years describes Tkaczuk as an “incredibly motivated and refined gymnast” who from the beginning has had “determination to be a top performing student-athlete in the gym and in school.”

Team is family

Tkaczuk is one of three “Baylees” on the gymnastics team—although each is spelled differently and each has a nickname. Tkaczuk is called “Chuck.” She said she considers her sophomore teammates like sisters and they “do everything” together. Next year, she hopes the five sophomores can live in a house together.

Interestingly, Titan teammates competed against each other as they developed skills at the club level.

“It was so great we ended up here,” Tkaczuk said.

Competitors in gymnastics are in elite company—across all divisions, there are just 82 collegiate gymnastics programs in the U.S.

Karnitz said Tkaczuk has the ability to be a DI gymnast and she shows it in meets against DI teams, where she consistently ranks near the top on uneven bars and beam.

“I don’t know what I said to get her here, but I’m glad she came because she brings that ‘wow’ factor to the team.,” Karnitz said. “We are on people’s radar because of her talent.”

Tkaczuk took home a dazzling number of awards as a freshman. She captured first place on the balance beam at the WIAC Championship, becoming the second UWO gymnast to win the event in four seasons. She went on to place first on the uneven bars at the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCGA) championship, becoming just the 12th Titan to win a NCGA event in school history and the first since 2007.

In a Feb. 10 meet in Minnesota versus Gustavus Adolphus College, Tkaczuk placed first with a score of 9.60 on the balance beam and first with 9.325 points in uneven bars competition and finished second in the all-around competition.

“I think my whole team is peaking now and looking a lot better for the post regular season,” she said. “Whitewater will be a tougher meet, but I think if we do what we practice we could come out on top.”


Sticking a routine is largely a result of the time put in at the gym.

Regular practice is from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays; and from 2 to 5 p.m. Wednesdays and Fridays, with weight lifting at the Student Rec Center Mondays and Wednesdays after 5 p.m. The weekends are reserved for meets or time off.

“It’s definitely hard,” Tkaczuk said. “There are things to help student athletes succeed. (But) sleep and social life are barely existent.”

Karnitz has high expectations for her athletes in the classroom—with a team expectation of a 3.2 grade point average or above.

“All of my student-athletes have never known gymnastics without school and vice versa so they have no reason not to continue their academic success in college,” Karnitz said.

She stresses there is no professional gymnastics after college, so academics is what will carry team members in their lives after college. The gymnasts have opportunities for success at UW Oshkosh through faculty mentors, student tutors and team study sessions.

Tkaczuk intends to add a second major, biology healthcare science, and a minor In neuroscience as she prepares apply for medical school at UW-Madison.

Lofty goals

Tkaczuk recently returned from a concussion sustained in November that took her out for a couple of months.

“My hope is that she will be able to add her third tumbling pass on floor and continue to gain confidence so she is able to qualify to Nationals on her individual events again this year,” Karnitz said in early February. “We had a slow start (to the season) but it looks like things are on the up-swing.”

Karnitz said her goal is for the entire team to qualify for the national championship at Springfield College in March. She believes the team is getting more confident and working at improving routines.

“This season is going better than last,” Tkaczuk said. “It’s a matter of putting it all together.”

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