Freshman Chris Cameron approached assistant coach Scott Vetere at practice.
“I’m going to do my hard pommel horse set,” he said. “Pressure-cook me.”
With a wicked grin, Vetere obliged, setting Cameron up as the final competitor on Michigan’s roster for last Saturday’s Windy City Invitational.
“Ohio State’s winning by five-tenths,” Vetere said. “You have to nail your hard pommels set for us to win.”
Most people buckle under pressure, but Cameron thrives on it. As his teammates shouted and piled the stress on, the whirling freshman hit his routine. “We win!” laughed Vetere.
Other teams, Michigan coach Kurt Golder believes, may have overlooked potential impact of the Winter Haven, Fla., native because he didn’t compete at the Junior Nationals last year. But after committing to Michigan, Cameron finished 14th in the all-around at Winter Cup, a competition for the best gymnasts in the United States. And in his first collegiate meet, the Windy City Invitational, he hit every set.
With all that ability, it might be easy to forget there’s a reason teammates affectionately call Cameron “Little Leg.”
Cameron was born with a disease that made his right lower leg significantly smaller than his left. Although his right leg is still much smaller in diameter than his left, that hasn’t held him back in the least.
“It’s sort of become something I’m proud of, because I was able to work through it and get good on floor even though I have a little leg,” Cameron said. “It’s just a prideful body part of mine, because it works so good even though it looks so bad.”
When he visited Michigan, Cameron wasn’t looking to be impressed – after all, it was his very first recruiting trip. But the welcome he received from the Michigan men’s gymnastics team was every bit as warm as his native Florida.
“Everything was bigger, everything was better than I expected it to be,” Cameron said. After taking less-than-thrilling trips to Iowa and Minnesota and learning a full scholarship to Michigan was available, Cameron jumped at the opportunity to become a Wolverine.
“The green light was just flashing in my face,” Cameron said. “I just had to come here.”
From his first practice, Cameron has wowed his teammates and coaches not only with his skills but with his tireless work ethic.
Most of the time, coaches need to set workout minimums for their athletes.
For Cameron, they set workout maximums. Volunteer coach Derek Croad said Cameron’s drive to fix mistakes is his technique makes him an ideal athlete.
“He will jump up in two seconds and do it until he gets it right,” Croad said. “That’s the kind of gymnast you want on the team, because he’s going for perfection.”
Cameron and his West Quad roommate, fellow freshman Ian Makowske, are often two of the last gymnasts to leave practice each day.
“They definitely hold everybody to a higher standard as far as work ethic and how much they accomplish in a day,” senior co-captain Paul Woodward said. “Chris has an excitement for gymnastics that I don’t think anybody else in here has. It truly is his love.”
The freshman slipped easily into his niche on the close-knit team.
By the end of September, he had bought into the team’s philosophy of having every athlete on the team serve as a coach to their fellow gymnasts. Some freshmen might have trouble taking instruction from their peers, but Cameron didn’t.
Cameron has quickly become one of the team’s top pommel horse men, and earned fan-favorite status at team events like “Pommel Horse on the Diag Day” and the Maize and Blue intrasquad thanks to his dramatic flare sequence. But as an all-arounder, Cameron’s skills extend far beyond pommel horse. His parallel-bar routines have dropped as many jaws around the gym as his pommel routines.
At this point, Cameron’s potential seems limitless. The team atmosphere of collegiate gymnastics plays right into his energetic personality, and the intrasquad made it clear that the added excitement did nothing but help him.
“This is way better than just competing by yourself,” Cameron said afterward. “Being with a team is amazing.”