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Above photo courtesy of Scobel Wiggins
Story by Brooks Hatch, Oregon State University Athletics
Many thanks also to Steve Fenk and Jason Amberg, OSU Athletics, for their assistance
Link to view the Colussi-Pelaez aerial (YouTube video)
When Oregon State gymnast Silvia Colussi-Pelaez says “balance is the key to her being successful” in the classroom, athletically and in the community, she’s speaking figuratively and literally.
Figuratively, outside the gym she must balance the demands of an intense major (chemical engineering), and her minor (Spanish), with her athletic and community service obligations.
Inside the gym, she literally must keep her balance while competing on the beam and the bars, demanding and precise events in which she is one of the Pac-12’s top competitors. She recently tied her career-high of 9.90 on the beam at the Pac-12 championships, helping the Beavers tie for second place.
“Being a gymnast all my life has taught me you have to work hard to achieve something, not just in gymnastics but everything in life,” she said. “Being an athlete has taught me dedication, time management, how to work with other people and other things necessary to succeed in real life.
“I don’t think I would be the same person if it wasn’t for my experiences as a student-athlete. People don’t really understand the time demand and the mental and physical strain it puts on your body. It takes a lot of energy, a lot of time, to do well in your sport as well as academically.
“I don’t have a lot of extra time, like some students do, so I have to be that much better with my commitments. I don’t have time to waste.”
Her litany of academic and athletic accomplishments illustrate how successfully she’s balanced the demands of a very hectic life.
She has a cumulative 3.96 grade-point average, was recently named to the Pacific-12 Conference’s gymnastics All-Academic team as a first-team selection, and has twice earned National Association of Gymnastics Coaches academic All-American honors.
She’s made the Honor Roll every term since transferring to OSU from the University of Florida, and she received the 2015 Drucilla Shepard Smith Scholastic Award for academic achievement and community service involvement.
She also is the community relations officer for the Student-Athlete Advisory Board (SAAC), locating and staffing community service opportunities for OSU athletes.
She doubles as OSU’s representative on the Pac-12’s Student-Athlete Leadership Team (SALT). It works with the conference administrators to understand student-athlete concerns on a variety of issues.
“I feel like conference leadership is listening to the student-athletes concerns about time demands and other legislation that affects student-athletes,” she said.
She learned her personal organizational skills growing up as a multi-lingual youth in Toronto, one of the most culturally-diverse cities in North America. She attended an Italian pre-school, then enrolled in a French immersion school for 10 years before finishing up in an English school so she could compete in intercollegiate gymnastics in the United States.
“It’s a matter of prioritizing and focusing on what is important during that part of the day,” she said. “I grew up going to the gym, then to school, going back to the gym and finishing the day with my homework, every day.”
Colussi-Pelaez originally planned to study pre-med or engineering in college. But her love of chemistry and math steered her toward chemical engineering when she decided that pre-med wasn’t a good fit.
“Chemical engineering became a natural – I like to problem-solve,” she said. “I want to work and live abroad, probably Europe, and that is where chemical engineering is such a great degree for me.
“Chemical engineering provides me a lot of options all over the world. There are many different industries I could work in.”
The love of science runs in her family. Her father, Stephen, is the co-founder of an international engineering firm. Her younger sister and gymnastics teammate, Mariana, is an OSU freshman majoring in biology.
Gymnastics has enabled Colussi-Pelaez to explore cultures others dream about. She has competed for Spain (she holds dual Canadian/Spanish citizenship) on some of the biggest stages of gymnastics, including the World Championships.
She successfully performed the first sideways aerial (watch it here) at the 2013 World Championships in Belgium. The move is now known as the “Colussi-Pelaez,” but it is no longer part of her routine.
“It’s too risky, so I have eliminated it,” she says. “If I wanted to continue performing at that level it would be a commitment of being in full-time training of about 30 hours per week.”
Instead, she’s comfortable being one of the top student-athletes at OSU and in the Pac-12 Conference, and concentrating on her academic pursuits.
Gymnastics takes her away from campus several weeks per year. So, having professors and academic advisors who realize student-athletes sometimes miss class time is extremely important.
Colussi-Pelaez said chemical, biological and environmental engineering professor Willie “Skip” Rochefort, and her advisor, Kristen Rorrer, have been “very supportive and understanding” of her unique academic circumstances.
“Dr. Skip has even attended a few of our meets, and e-mailed me to say he has stayed up late to watch our events,” she said. “Kristen Rorrer has been invaluable to me as well.”
Rochefort describes Colussi-Pelaez an exemplary student-athlete, an outstanding student in general, and very nice person.
“She is the model for an NCAA student-athlete, as are all of our student-athletes in our college,” he said. “Student-athletes are extremely dedicated to their sports, but also their education.
“They always do all the work, never ask for special favors,” except for late assignments when traveling, “and almost always are near the top of the class.”
Colussi-Pelaez credits almost everyone except herself for her success.
“My parents have done everything for me,” she said. “They’ve supported me, they’ve loved me, drove me to the gym twice a day, traveled to watch me. Supportive coaches, academic people, my friends, my teammates have been so vitally important.”