Trio of Senior Gymnasts Play Invaluable Role for Program

Justine Foster in 2011.

Justine Foster in 2011.

March 12, 2012

Senior Night Admission Voucher

AUBURN - Three Auburn gymnastics seniors aren't guaranteed a chance to contribute in the lineup on Friday night against BYU, but that doesn't mean the trio don't play an invaluable role in the Auburn program.

Justine Foster, Kareen Kaveh and Kendall Swartz have seen the ups and downs that come with collegiate athletics, but for Auburn head coach Jeff Graba there are no bigger contributors on his squad.

"I feel like a lot times people get lost in the shuffle because they aren't getting as much press as others, but as far as leadership, we rely as much on those three as we do on anyone else," Graba said. "They are extremely influential. I truly believe that their attitudes, their work ethic, their focus, their ability to stay prepared and fight through adversity is building the character of this team as much as anyone or anything else.

"Those three, their selfless attitudes and their hard work are only helping the rest of the team. It's training the freshmen and showing them what it's really like to be a college athlete."

That impact on the younger members of the team is a role that all three relish, but isn't something that has come easy or expected.

"I was always a leader in disguise," Kaveh said. "I never was the one to speak up. I feel like the girls do look up to us, but I didn't really plan to be that person. I knew coming into this year that I needed to speak up and if I didn't want to speak, then I needed to show them through my actions."

Swartz echoed the same sentiment.

"I think as you get older, you become a leader without even trying to," Swartz said. "You try to set a good example and help everyone else through."

Foster never imagined herself in a leadership capacity, but has taken advantage of her opportunity to serve in that role in 2012 by providing valuable outside input to her teammates.

"I've never really thought of myself as a leader," Foster said. "From the outside looking in, it's really different. You can see the mistakes they are making and see what suggestions you need to offer. It's a lot easier to help people from that perspective, especially given that I've been in that situation before."

All members of the same highly-touted recruiting class in 2008, the trio has each dealt with various trials and tribulations, specifically when it comes to injury. Foster has suffered two knee injuries, most recently in November 2011. Kaveh has battled multiple Achilles tendon injuries, while Swartz is limited to only one event due to a back injury suffered in high school.

Despite suffering the unfortunate injuries over the course of their careers, all three have emerged with valuable life lessons in hand.

"I think I've learned a lot of perseverance through everything," Swartz said. "I wasn't even planning on competing in college, but the opportunity came up and I couldn't turn it down. I've learned a lot of mental toughness and that can be carried on through the rest of my life."

More than anything, the pair of injuries has given Foster greater perspective.

"The whole college experience is a learning experience in general," Foster said. "You learn a lot from it about yourself, what you can deal with, what you can handle. You learn about the bigger picture.

"Being a part of a team is huge deal. It's bigger than you. Club is all about you, but being on a team is a totally different. You are moving towards a common goal. If you mess up, it's not just on you, it's on everyone. You impact others more than just yourself."

Not only have the trio left an indelible mark on their younger teammates, Foster, Kaveh and Swartz have made an impact on their classmates, including fellow senior Kylie Shields.

"They are incredible girls," Shields said. "They have great personalities. But what I really think I've taken from them is their determination and motivation and the fact that they have never given up no matter the circumstances - injuries or not being in the lineup. They won't give up because gymnastics is what they love and it's in them. That is a spirit that not everyone has, it's something you can't teach and they definitely have it.

"I can't imagine some of the things they had to go through with their injuries, but the fact that they are still here really says a lot about who they are."

Graba knows how much the three seniors have overcome, but through those hard times he has seen their true integrity revealed.

"All three have dealt with injury," Graba said. "It's been tough for them. They've had a lot of adversity thrown at them. They've had to rehab and still stay active. It says everything about their character to deal with those difficulties in the way they have. The three of them have given us the best example of how to deal with adversity and make the best of it, and I think that is something the rest of the team has learned from."

With just one regular season home meet remaining and their senior seasons coming to a close, all three have begun to reflect on what exactly they will remember most fondly - the relationships they have forged with teammates.

"I'm going to remember the fun times we've had in the gym and on the road," Kaveh said. "We only can do this once in our lives. We shouldn't get upset about the little things. In the end, it's not going to matter. What matters is that you were a part of a team, because not everyone can do that. You just want to have fun with your teammates and do the best you can every day."

For Swartz, those relationships along with the personal strength she has gained will be what she carries with her when her time on The Plains is over.

"The relationships that I've built with everyone on this team are what I will remember, coaches included," Swartz said. "We have a family here. I hope we will all keep in touch once we go our separate ways. I've also learned so much mental toughness from all the adversity I've dealt with, and it's something I will take with me.

"I've learned a lot, I've grown a lot and I'm glad it's ending on a positive note. When I think about it, I'll remember the team and how my career is ending in such a positive way."

It was Kaveh's desire to give gymnastics every last bit of effort she possessed that kept her going through the injury difficulties and on Friday, she will wrap the regular season on her own terms.

"I wasn't ready to let it go," Kaveh said. "I came here and I wanted to make a mark with my collegiate career. I didn't want to end my career like that. That's what pushed me through to make it where I am now. Even though I'm not doing everything I want to do, I'm graduating and leaving the sport knowing that I did everything I could."

Foster, Kaveh and Swartz along with the rest of their Auburn teammates face BYU on Friday in the Auburn Arena. Two free youth will be admitted with a copy of the voucher the voucher HERE. Tickets for the 2012 NCAA Regional featuring the Auburn gymnastics team at Auburn Arena are also on sale now. Tickets are general admission and are $5 for youth and students and $10 for the general public.

Tickets for Friday's meet and the regional can be purchased by visiting or by phone at 855-AUB-2010. For the latest on Auburn Gymnastics, follow @AUGymnastics on Twitter or become a fan on Facebook.