Fifteen-year-old Christina Chauvenet glared at the vault with intent. After balking more times than she would like to admit, she remembered her task: open her right hand, get it on the table and push down.
With that, she sprinted as fast as she could towards the vault, pried open her chalked-up fingers and made contact with the table.
Whether it was Chauvenet’s effort or her coach assisting her over the vault, she experienced the long-awaited feeling of her sport, something that her gymnast friends without disabilities had gushed about since they were in Level 1.
She was flying.
Chauvenet was born with spastic hemiplegic cerebral palsy that affects the right side of her body.
Growing up, Chauvenet said she knew she would never become a Division-I gymnast like some of the athletes she trained with.
But equipped with an in-depth knowledge of gymnastics and a passion for educating others, Chauvenet took on a different challenge years later — this time, from behind the media table as a UNC gymnastics commentator.
At just 6 years old, an awestruck Chauvenet watched Shannon Miller and Dominique Dawes compete in the 1992 Summer Olympics.
Following the 1996 Summer Games, she memorized all of the Magnificent Seven’s routines from her VHS tape.
After a few years of physical therapy, Chauvenet’s medical staff and parents finally allowed her to participate in the sport at age 10. However, her limited mobility made skills in lower levels of gymnastics difficult to complete.
She said she was often separated from peers her age.
“I was just very self-conscious that I was different, and a lot of times, I was embarrassed,” Chauvenet said. “My skill level put me with kids I could babysit for.”
As a 14-year-old at Camp Woodward in Pennsylvania, where many gymnasts train, Chauvenet’s goal was to master a cartwheel — her condition, though, caused her to lean sideways, giving her extra difficulties. But with multicolored mats stacked up to form a barricade on either side of her, Chauvenet did it.
Hand, hand. Foot, foot. A long-awaited round of applause from a crowd of athletes around her followed.
Chauvenet’s most daunting event was bars, as she struggled with grip strength. At the same camp that she conquered the vault, she said she finally learned how to do a back hip circle, a foundational skill on uneven bars.
“I’m basically doing like 95 percent of the work on my left side," Chauvenet said. “I was really just trying not to get my right arm to fly off.”
'Something that I could control'
Although Chauvenet saw improvement in her skill set throughout middle and high school training, injuries pushed her to quit by her senior year. She then had more time to focus on her education.
"I knew I was never going to be very good at dance or gymnastics, but the intellect — that was something that I could control," Chauvenet said. "And that was something that I took a lot of pride in."
Chauvenet went to Wake Forest for her undergraduate degree, then received her masters at the University of London before traveling back to North Carolina to earn her doctoral degree in maternal and child health at UNC.
One day, Chauvenet's husband, Chris Hill, was serving then-UNC gymnast Lexi Cappalli on her 21st birthday at The Station in Carrboro. Hill, who now works in the Hussman School of Journalism and Media, mentioned his wife's obsession with the sport, and Cappalli encouraged her to get involved.
On the Wednesday before UNC gymnastics’ first meet of the 2015 season, Chauvenet sent an email to UNC athletics expressing her interest in commentating for the team. Almost immediately, she got a response asking her to work their first meet against Auburn — which would be held two days later.
Thus, without any broadcast experience or collegiate-level gymnastics under her belt, Chauvenet’s commentating career began.
"Now, when I look back at my commentating, I was like, 'Oh, gosh, I sounded like such an idiot,'" she said. "Because I just didn't know what I was doing."
At first, Chauvenet said she didn’t know broadcast terms like “lower thirds” and said “okay” every time she began talking, but she soon became acclimated to the job. After just one season, she began constructing spreadsheets of information to reference and memorized the code of points and deductions.
She also befriended then-UNC gymnastics head coach Derek Galvin, who let her sit in practices and take notes.
“This is not Christina's full-time job, so I appreciate just how much she puts into it,” Cappalli said. “She is just so knowledgeable about the sport while also being very enthusiastic about it.”
'She does all the heavy lifting'
As Chauvenet’s commentary platform expanded, her Twitter presence simultaneously grew as a way to communicate with her fanbase and other personalities in the industry.
It was through social media that she began communicating with play-by-play broadcaster Kevin Copp, who she recently met in person to work the 2022 East Atlantic Gymnastics League championships.
The two clicked well on air, with Copp guiding listeners through the order of the meet and Chauvenet digging into the meat and potatoes of the analytics.
“It was the easiest meet that I've ever had to do,” Copp said. “She takes it so seriously, she’s so prepared and, to be honest, she does all the heavy lifting.”
Through her work, Chauvenet hopes to use her voice to give gymnasts the platforms they deserve.
She works to utilize language that is not infantilizing and treats the athletes as women, rather than “girls.” Additionally, she advocates for better resources and training for coaches of disabled athletes, as she believes these would have helped her athletic career.
“People just don't really know what to do with you,” Chauvenet said. “It's a way that you feel 'othered,' and you're already feeling 'othered' in that situation.”
Chauvenet is soon moving to Washington, D.C. as her current position as senior manager of research and innovation at the National Women, Infants and Children Association program — which provides food assistance and resources to women and children across the country — transitions to in-person work.
But, she still has plans in the future to commentate at UNC, the program that gave her the opportunity to return to her beloved sport and relive her childhood memories.
With her headset on and her mic hot, Chauvenet can fly once again.
“UNC gymnastics has been the springboard — gymnastics pun intended — to what's next in my career,” she said.
CORRECTION: A previous version of the article incorrectly stated the National Women, Infants and Children Association's program title and affiliation. The article has been updated with the correct title. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for the error.
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