Hilary Green: When gymnastics ends and life begins

Iowa State Senior Hilary Green competes on floor during the Quad Meet against Yale, West Virginia and Northern Illinois Feb. 2. The Cyclones won the meet with their highest team score of the season with a total of 196.200 Points.

Austin Anderson

It’s 6:45 a.m. on an early April morning, and Hilary Green is staring at the clock on her microwave.

She’s been awake for an hour. She already drank her coffee and sat under her lamp in the corner of her apartment reading scripture and journaling her thoughts.

She actually got to sleep in on this day. Before spring break, when her school work was really busy, she would wake up at 4 a.m., work on homework for an hour, then fall back asleep for a quick 15-minute nap at five in the morning.

She averages “about” seven hours and 26 minutes of sleep each night, she said, as if that wasn’t the exact amount.

It’s a vital part of her daily routine. She watches the digital numbers dribble their way toward zero on the corner of the microwave, where her daily bowl of oatmeal sits inside. Last year she would stop the microwave at 10 seconds, but this year she waits.

Green doesn’t know it yet at this point, but in a few weeks her team will fail to qualify for the national championships. Her season will come to an end, and with that, so will her gymnastics career.

The end of an athletic career for any collegiate athlete is hard, but the end of the road in gymnastics can be particularly challenging. Most gymnasts have been competing for as long as they can remember and made sacrifices at every stop along the way.

Green’s teammate, Meaghan Sievers, traveled 100 miles each way to practice in high school. When Haylee Young was 10 years old, she woke up at 5 a.m. for practice every weekday morning. Green, herself, has competed at five different gyms.

Then one day, sooner or later, the careers of these athletes inevitably end, and a new part of life begins.

“When retirement comes, the main question is, ‘Who am I?’” said Iowa State coach Jay Ronayne. “I don’t think she’s dealing with that in the same crushing reality that most do.”

Green has been focused on that moment for awhile. She doesn’t want this to be an end of something, but rather the beginning of something else.

So, in the early morning, Green watches the microwave timer in her kitchen.

“I can’t even explain it,” Green said.

As the clock ticks down, right before the timer goes off and sends a beep throughout her apartment that would likely wake up her roommate, she hits the button to stop the microwave with exactly one second left, right before it ends.

Maybe Green can’t explain why she stops the microwave on one second every time she cooks oatmeal, or why any college student would willingly wake up at four in the morning. If you dive into where she came from, and how she got to Iowa State, the answer appears to reveal itself.

It’s all she’s ever known.

Her mom, Kim, was a Sergeant Major, who served 25 years in the U.S. Army. By the time Green was 18 years old, she had lived in nine states and two countries. She lived in Washington, Alaska and Louisiana before she left the country.

In first grade she lived on a base in Germany. She spent second grade in Texas before a little bit of stability, if you can call it that, came to be in North Carolina. She lived in North Carolina from third through seventh grade, but her mom would deploy periodically. When her mom deployed, Green would live with her grandmother in Minnesota.

During the second half of her elementary school years, Green spent half her time in North Carolina and half in Minnesota.

“It was fine when I was younger,” Green said. “Then I got to a moment where my mom deployed for a year. I made a really good group of friends. I was told I had to leave, of course, when she got back, and that was really hard.”

Green had been all over the world, making friends she knew she was going to have to leave for good at any time. She said she closed herself off.

She focused on school and gymnastics, which at the time seemed like a coping mechanism, but looking back, shaped her into who she is now.

Green is on scholarship at Iowa State as a gymnast, and she’s been a key part of the team since she arrived on campus. But it remains to be seen whether her legacy on Iowa State’s campus will be remembered more for what she did in the gym or out of it.

In the gym, Green was a two-time Big 12 event specialist of the week this season. Outside of the gym, she was on the Big 12 Commissioner’s honor roll every semester of college.

She is currently in grad school as a dietetics major where she is conducting a study examining the impact of post-exercise egg consumption on inflammatory response markers.

“When someone says Hilary Green, I think determined,” Ronayne said.

Green will still be around Iowa State next year finishing up her master’s degree. She has a dietetics internship to be a registered dietitian. Then she might dive into helping collegiate athletes in aesthetic sports like gymnastics or track to help maintain their bodies, but only part time. She has other hopes to teach nutrition overseas.

“When I close one door,” Green said, “another one opens.”

But for now, she’s in Ames waking up in the middle of the night to read scripture, drink coffee and make sure the microwave stops with one second left so she can start her day.