Before Kathy Tang committed to this university six years ago, the Terrapins gymnastics senior wanted to attend a different school than her sister, Karen, who was two grades ahead and already on the Terps’ squad.
“I thought, ‘I don’t want to be with her,'” Kathy said. “‘I want to be my own gymnast and my own self.'”
Karen initially agreed, but they eventually changed their minds, and Kathy followed in her sister’s footsteps to College Park. The two are still roommates, even after Karen’s five-year career came to an end last season.
Kathy’s earlier worries turned out to be misguided. She’s still her own person, but Karen’s presence has shaped her both in and out of the gym.
Take last Sunday’s meet against Rutgers when Kathy fell on beam for the first time this season. Karen was in attendance at Xfinity Center — she plans on attending every home meet — and Kathy said she was a calming influence, though the two didn’t talk during the competition.
“If I get upset about something, I don’t really think about what I’m going to do next,” Kathy said. “But Karen has helped me with taking a step back and taking a breather.”
Kathy composed herself and responded, posting a 9.80 on floor in the team’s final rotation.
While the elder Tang is characterized as comforting, the first word the team uses to describe Kathy is energetic. But it’s a trait that sometimes hinders her performance.
“Everything she does is at a 10,” assistant coach Erinn Dooley said. “For gymnastics, she needs to calm herself down.”
Karen has helped in that regard, and her impact doesn’t end there. She was a captain last season and one of six seniors whose leadership guided the underclassmen throughout the season.
Those six departures made the Terps a much smaller team this year, so Kathy, one of three seniors and the only one who has competed in 2016, has stepped into a more significant leadership role.
When faced with tough decisions, Kathy and the other captains look back on how Karen and other former gymnasts handled things in past seasons. Karen, though, makes sure the captains realize every team is different, and they often go directly to her looking for advice and answers.
In terms of her performance, Kathy hasn’t had a problem leading by example. She competed in all-around three times as a freshman despite battling an ankle injury, and she is the only Terp to compete in all-around in every meet this year.
In the past, however, the Terps said Kathy, unlike her sister, had a tendency to rely on her natural talent. It took some time for Karen’s ambition to rub off on her younger sibling.
“Kathy’s passion level grew as she saw how Karen had it,” Dooley said. “And now you can see it in how she acts.”
The Tang sisters spent three years together as teammates and countless hours as roommates after debating whether to go to school together.
They prefer to look at where they are now, though, rather than looking back.
“Because we went to the same school, we became better sisters and better gymnasts,” Karen said. “If we did it all over again, we’d still choose Maryland.”