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PROFILE: This Student Gets on the Stick

This student gets on the stick and reveals that baton twirling is tough stuff. No sissies need apply.

Date: 12/29/2002
By: Mary Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824
UC ingot Bruises.  Bone breaks.  Ruptured blood vessels.  They're the rough-and-tumble, real-world realities of being world-class -- a world-class baton twirler that is. 

Baton twirling is tough stuff.  No sissies need apply.  Just ask Sarah Knight, 19, a University of Cincinnati sophomore in fashion design and an internationally ranked baton twirler.  She routinely combines dance and gymnastics moves while launching up to four metal rods 30 feet into the air at any given time...and then, of course, catches those same spinning rods on their downward trajectory.   

Sarah Knight

Says Sarah, "Twirling is incredibly physical.  It's plain hard work.  It's cardiovascular dance and gymnastics.  Plus, you get beat up, bruised, hit on the head.  You get battle wounds....After almost every practice or performance, I have broken blood vessels in my hands, especially when the weather's cold.  You're throwing metals bars 30 feet into the air and catching them.  I'm sure I'll have arthritis when I'm older."  

Just think of that the next time you see Sarah or another twirler heading up a parade or hitting her stride on the astroturf at a football half-time.  What you're seeing is the result of daily hours of dedication adding up to years of experience.  Sarah makes it look easy now, but it wasn't always so, especially in her early years of effort.

Sarah started twirling when she was 7 years old in her hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma.  She was bored at her after-school daycare, and she started to play with batons, just "goofing around."  A teacher suggested she join a twirling team, and that changed Sarah's life.  "Most of the others on the team were at a higher level than me.  I was challenged.  I thought, 'I want to be like them,'" she recalls.

And so, she started practicing and practicing and practicing.  By the time she was 13, Sarah was competing on the national level, facing up to 300 competitors in each national event.  In high school, Sarah routinely taught baton twirling to younger girls for two hours a day.  She would follow that up by practicing four hours solo.  She did homework at night.  In the summer, Sarah would train from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on the days she didn't have to work. 

It's a pace that's not unlike what she puts in as a UC student.  While working and while carrying 20 credit hours in the demanding programs at UC's internationally ranked College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP), Sarah also twirls with the UC band.  That means mandatory twirling practice of about 9 hours a week while school is in session.  But Sarah doesn't stop there.  On her own, she'll head to an empty racket-ball court to twirl.  She also arrives to UC well before the start of fall classes.  And so, she polishes off her summer by practicing 7 a.m.-9 p.m. in UC's Nippert Stadium.

This dedication has a wider effect on her life and on her attitude.  Sarah states, "Twirling has taught me some bedrock lessons.  If you want something bad enough, you have to work hard enough to get it.  Knowing what you want is important.  Dedication, commitment, hard work, focus and team work will pay off.  If you have passion behind your dreams and goals, there are no speed bumps along the way."

This level of commitment has paid off in terms of recognition.  Sarah currently holds the titles of Miss Majorette of Ohio and on the international level, she's recognized as the Two-Baton Champ of the world.   

Not that she's content to stop there.  Right now, Sarah says she's fairly proficient at a routine that demands the use of three batons.  But, she's pushing for four in her exhibitions, which include not only UC sports events, but Bengals' half-time performances as well as special exhibits with the Cincinnati Pops or other contests around the state.

"I'm good with three batons, but I'm ratcheting up to four.  The audience loves it the more batons you have in hand and work with.  You can wow them with four, but you always want a faster spin, a higher toss.  You want to add harder elements and more spins," she explains.

Wowing them is what it's all about for Sarah.  It's what keeps her going while she pulls all-nighters studying -- what keeps her going despite the bumps, bruises and possible breaks inherent in baton twirling.

"I loved to do all sorts of physical things as a kid.  I loved to dance, but I was kicked out of ballet.  I tried gymnastics, soccer, basketball.  I tried everything, but twirling was unique.  People love watching it.  So many times, they say what I said when I joined my team as a 7-year-old, 'I wish I could do that.'  I'm in the spotlight.  It's fun," she adds.

And while the fun is important to Sarah, twirling has paid off in other ways.  Her titles have provided scholarship money for school, and in fact, it was twirling that led Sarah to her chosen career and to UC.

In high school, Sarah had to design her own costumes since a unique ensemble is part of competition requirements.  She recalls, "I came to really like designing the costumes.  I was always drawing different possibilities.  I even began making costumes for about four or five of my students.  That sparked my interest in fashion design.  In fact, I now want to eventually specialize in dancewear or skatewear."

Sarah came to visit UC because of its well-respected fashion program, and she fell in love with campus.  "I knew I wanted an urban school, a broad-based school, not just a school narrowly focused solely on design.  I wanted diversity of people and of study...After visiting UC, I refused to visit any other schools.  I talked to the faculty here.  I talked to the students.  I just loved it.  There are the most amazing people at UC."

I guess, she can say that again...every time she looks in a mirror.

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